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Full text of "The Quest of the Absolute and other stories"

LIBRARY 

THE UNIVERSITY 
OF CALIFORNIA 

SANTA BARBARA 



PRESENTED BY 

Mr. H. H. KM iani 



UCSB LIBRARY 



H. DE BALZAC 



THE COMEDIE HUMAINE 



A WOMAN WAS SITTING IN A LARGE EASY CHAIR BY ONE 

OF THE WINDOWS. 



H. DE BALZAC 



THE 



QUESTOF THE ABSOLUTE 

(LA RECHERCHE DE L'ABSOLU) 

AND OTHER STORIES 



TRANSLATED BY 



ELLEN MARRIAGE 



WITH A PBEFACE BY 



GEORGE SAINTSBURY 



PHILADELPHIA 

THE GEBBIE PUBLISHING Co., Ltd 
1897 



CONTENTS. 

PACK 

PREFACE ix 

THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE i 
THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE 

I. GILLETTE 223 

II. CATHERINE LESCAULT 244 

CHRIST IN FLANDERS 255 

MELMOTH RECONCILED 276 

THE RED HOUSE 331 

I. THE IDEA AND THE DEED 335 

II. THE DOUBLE RETRIBUTION 359 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



A WOMAN WAS SITTING IN A LARGE EASY-CHAIR BY ONE OF 

THE WINDOWS Frontispiece 

?AGB 

HE TOOK UP MME. CLAES AT ONCE IN HIS ARMS . . . AND 

SPRANG UP THE STAIRCASE 55 

SHE TURNED, WITH A SWAN-LIKE MOVEMENT OF HER THROAT, 

TO GLANCE ONCE MORE AT EMMANUEL .... 104 

THE OLDER MAN . . . KNOCKED THRICE AT THE DOOR . 225 

THE FORGER SAW A MAN STANDING AT THE LITTLE GRATED 

WINDOW 282 



PREFACE. 

i 

THE volume of the old edition of the " Comedie Humaine," 
which opened with "The Quest of the Absolute," together 
with that generally entitled "The Maranas," contains the 
cream and flower of Balzac as a story-teller ; and the first ex- 
cels the second in showing the fiery heat and glow of the 
author's imagination. Its principal constituent, the title 
story, is large enough for a novel by itself. The chief of the 
minor elements, "The Unknown Masterpiece," has seemed 
to some the actual masterpiece of the author. "Jesus-Christ 
en Flandre," like some others of Balzac's short stories, inti- 
mates an intention in him of emulating the contes fantastiques , 
half-humorous and half-romantic, half- Voltairian and half- 
mystical, which were so much in favor in 1830. It is, I think, 
quite the best of them, and it shows its author's great manner 
in more points than one. But just as at the end of " L' Elixir 
de longue Vie" we want the touch of Hoffmann rather than 
that of Balzac ; so here we find something that is not quite 
perfect, that wants another hand. Even as it is, we would not 
change for anything else, but we have the sense that the same 
thing by another person might have been even better. " Mel- 
moth reconcilie," an inferior thing in itself, has in the same 
way a sort of special and adventitious interest. 

I do not know that I admire " The Red House " quite so 
much as some of the other contents of the volume. It has 
interest ; and it may be observed that, as indicating the origin 
of Taillefer's wealth, it connects itself with the general scheme 
of the " Comedie," as few of the others do. But it is an at- 

(ix) 



x PREFACE, 

tempt, like one or two others of Balzac's, at a style very popular 
in 1830, a sort of combination of humor and terror, of Sterne 
and Monk Lewis, which is a little doubtful in itself, which 
has very rarely been done well, and for which he himself was 
not quite completely equipped. 

But "The Quest of the Absolute" is, as has been said, a 
novel in itself. Taking minor points only, it is a masterpiece. 
That there is a certain parallelism, probably unconscious, be- 
tween the way in which Balthazar Claes as unconsciously kills 
his wife and the way in which Monsieur Grandet kills his, is 
certainly no drawback to the book ; for the repetition, if it is 
a repetition, only shows how genius can repeat. Indeed, 
there is the same demonstration contained in the same books 
in the representation of the diverse martyrdoms of Madame 
Claes and her daughter Marguerite, fatal in the former case, 
happily changed in the latter. In no book is Balzac's faculty 
of Dutch drawing, as far as scenes and details go, more bril- 
liantly shown ; in none are the minor characters from the 
famulus Le Mulquinier, with his fatal belief in his master's 
madness, downwards better ; while Marguerite Claes and her 
mother, especially Marguerite, are by common consent to be 
ranked among Balzac's greatest triumphs in portraying 
" honest women." 

But these things, though they illustrate the general principle 
that the presence of a great central interest and figure will 
radiate greatness and interest on its surroundings, would con- 
tribute comparatively little to the effect of the book if it were 
not for the seeker after the absolute himself. Nowhere, per- 
haps, has the hopeless tyranny of the fixed idea, the ferocious 
(not exactly selfish) absorption in the pursuit of a craze, been 
portrayed with quite the same power as here. And we know 
and feel that the energy, the fire, the perfection of the hand- 
ling are due to sympathy that Balzac a few generations earlier 
would have sought the Philosopher's Stone with the same des- 
perate energy as Balthazar. Probably nothing but his prior 



PREFACE. xl 

attachment to literary work prevented him from doing some- 
thing similar; while actually, as it was, he kept himself in 
lifelong difficulties by no very different persistence in the cor- 
responding, if more ignoble, game of speculation. 

I have just said that the tyranny of the ideal has nowhere 
been more successfully portrayed than in " The Quest of the 
Absolute ; ' ' but there is perhaps one exception, and it is 
"The Unknown Masterpiece," which should be carefully 
compared with the larger fiction. The attraction of this won- 
derful and terrible piece for all who have anything to do with 
the things of the spirit, whether in the way of criticism or in 
the way of creation, can hardly be exaggerated. I remember 
many years ago spending half an evening in discussing, in a 
sort of amoebean strain, its merits with the late Mr. Steven- 
son ; and everybody knows the compliment which a distin- 
guished American writer has paid it by attempting a sort of 
paraphrase of its original. The same interest is present here 
and in "The Quest," but it is a little complicated, a little 
refined upon. Here, too, there is the sorcery of the ideal, 
the frenzied passion for attainment and perfection. But here 
there is a special nuance almost as closely connected with 
Balzac's individuality as the general scheme. We know that 
the mania of constant retouching, of adding strokes, was a 
danger of his own ; that he did actually indulge in it to an 
extent very prejudicial to his pecuniary interest, and perhaps 
not always advantageous to the effect of his work, though the 
artist in words is hardly exposed to any such absolutely hope- 
less catastrophe in such a case as is the artist in line and 
color. 

Yet, wonderful as this is, it cannot in its limited space, and 
with its intensely concentrated interest, vie with the ampli- 
tude, the variety, the dignity of " The Quest." Balzac might 
have made this too long : he was not always proof against that 
temptation. But in it, as in " Eugenie Grandet," with which 
it has been already compared, he has hit the exact mean be- 



xii PREFACE. 

tween a short tale and a long novel, has not sinned by digres- 
sion and episode, has hardly sinned by undue indulgence in 
detail. The interest is perhaps remoter from the general 
human understanding than that of "Eugenie" and one or two 
others. But it is handled with equal mastery, and the effect 
is at least equally good. 

It is not, of course, that a knowledge of Balzac's own pecu- 
liarities adds anything to the sense of the artistic eminence 
of these two stories. That would be clear if we knew nothing 
whatever about the other part of the matter. But it cannot 
be regarded as uninteresting that we should thus know the 
secret of the furia, the "nobler gust" of sympathy and en- 
joyment with which the writer, consciously or unconsciously, 
must have set about these two great and, in his own work, 
almost incomparable things. 

"The Quest of the Absolute " appeared in 1834, with seven 
chapter-divisions, as a "Scene de la vie privee ; " was pub- 
lished by itself in 1839 by Charpentier; and took its final 
place as a part of the "Comdie" in 1845. 

G. S. 




THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

To Madame Josephine Delannoy, nee Doumerc. 

Madame, may God grant that this, my book, may live 
longer than I, for then the gratitude which I owe to 

you, and which I hope will equal your almost maternal 
kindness to me, would last beyond the limits prescribed 

for human affection. This sublime privilege of pro- 
longing the life in our hearts for a time by the life of 
the work we leave behind us would be (if we could 
only be sure of gaining it at last} a reward indeed 

for all the labor undertaken by those who aspire to 
such an immortality. Yet again I say May God 
grant it ! 

De Balzac. 

THERE is in Douai, in the Rue de Paris, a house that may 
be singled out from all others in the city ; for in every re- 
spect, in its outward appearance, in its interior arrangements, 
and in every detail, it is a perfect example of an old Flemish 
building, and preserves all the characteristics of a quaint 
style of domestic architecture thoroughly in keeping with the 
patriarchal manners of the good folk in the Low Countries. 
But before proceeding to describe the house, it may not be 
wholly unnecessary here to enter, on behalf of authors, a pro- 
test in favor of those didactic preliminaries for which the 
ignorant and impatient reader has so strong a dislike. There 
are persons who crave sensations, yet have not patience to 
submit to the influences which produce them ; who would fain 
have flowers without the seed, the child without gestation. 
Art, it would seem, is to accomplish what nature cannot. 

(1) 



2 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

It so happens that human life in all its aspects, wide or 
narrow, is so intimately connected with architecture, that 
with a certain amount of observation we can usually recon- 
struct a bygone society from the remains of its public monu- 
ments. From relics of household stuff, we can imagine its 
owners " in their habit as they lived." Archaeology, in fact, 
is to the body social somewhat as comparative anatomy is to 
animal organizations. A complete social system is made clear 
to us by a bit of mosaic, just as a whole past order of things 
is implied by the skeleton of an ichthyosaurus. Beholding 
the cause, we guess the effect, even as we proceed from the 
effect to the cause, one deduction following another until a 
chain of evidence is complete, until the man of science raises 
up a whole bygone world from the dead, and discovers for us 
not only the features of the past, but even the warts upon 
those features. 

Hence, no doubt, the prodigious interest which people take 
in descriptions of architecture so long as the writer keeps his 
own idiosyncrasies out of the text and does not obscure the 
facts with theories of his own ; for every one, by a simple 
process of deduction, can call up the past for himself as he 
reads. Human experience varies so little that the past seems 
strangely like the present ; and when we learn what has been, 
it not seldom happens that we also behold plainly what shall 
be again. As a matter of fact, we can seldom see a picture 
or a description of any place wherein the current of human 
life has once flowed without being put in mind of our own 
personal experience, our broken resolutions, or our blossom- 
ing hopes ; and the contrast between the present, in which 
our heart's desire is never given to us, and the future, when 
our wishes may be fulfilled, is an inexhaustible source of 
melancholy or delightful musings. How is it that Flemish 
art, with its pictures of Flemish life, makes an almost irre- 
sistible appeal to our feelings whenever the little details are 
faithfully rendered ? Perhaps the secret of the charm lies in 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 3 

this that there seems less uncertainty and perplexity in this 
matter-of-fact life than in any other. Such art could hardly 
exist without the opulent comfort which comes of a prosperity 
of long use and wont ; it depicts an existence peaceful to the 
verge of beatitude, with all its complicated family ties and 
domestic festivals ; but it is no less the expression of a tran- 
quillity wellnigh monotonous, of a prosperity which frankly 
finds its happiness in self-indulgence, which has nothing left 
to wish for, because its every desire is gratified as soon as it is 
formed. Even passionate temperaments, that measure the 
force of life by the tumult of the soul, cannot see these placid 
pictures and feel unmoved ; it is only shallow people who 
think that because the pulse beats so steadily the heart is cold. 

The energy that expends itself in a sudden and violent 
outbreak produces a far greater effect on the popular imagi- 
nation than an equal force exerted slowly and persistently. 
The crowds have neither the time nor the patience to estimate 
an enormous power which is uniformly exerted ; they do not 
reflect on appearances ; they are borne too swiftly along the 
current of life ; it is therefore only transcendent passion that 
makes any impression upon them, and the great artist is most 
extolled when he exceeds the limits of perfection : Michel 
Angelo, Bianca Cappello, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, Bee- 
thoven, Paganini you may pass their names in review. It is 
only a rare and great power which knows that there must be 
no overstepping of the limit line, that sets in the first place 
that quality of symmetry, that completeness which stamps a 
perfect work of art with the profound repose which has so 
strong a charm for those who are capable of recognizing it. 
But the life adopted by this practical people is in all respects 
the ideal life of the citizen as conceived of by the lower 
classes ; it is a bourgeois paradise in which nothing is lacking 
to fill the measure of their felicity. 

A highly refined materialism is the distinguishing character- 
istic of Flemish life. There is something dull, dreary, and 



4 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

unimaginative about English " comfort ; " but a Flemish inte- 
rior with its glowing colors is a delight to the eyes, and there 
is a blithe simplicity about the homeliness of Flemish life ; 
evidently the burden of toil is not too heavily felt, and the 
tobacco-pipe shows that the Flemings have grasped and applied 
the Neapolitan doctrine of far niente, while a tranquil appre- 
ciation of art and beauty in their surroundings is no less 
evident. In the temper of the people, indeed, there are two 
of the most essential conditions for the cultivation of art : 
patience, and that capacity for taking pains which is necessary 
if the work of the artist is to live ; these are pre-eminently 
the characteristics of the patient and painstaking Fleming. 
The magical splendor, the subtle beauty of poetry, are attain- 
ments impossible for patience and conscientiousness, you 
think ? Their life in Flanders must be as monotonously level 
as the lowlands of Holland, and as dreary as their clouded 
skies ! But it is nothing of the kind. The power of civiliza- 
tion has been brought to bear in every direction even the 
effects of the climate have been modified. 

If you notice the differences between the products of various 
parts of the globe, it surprises you at first that the prevailing 
tints of the temperate zones should be grays and tawny- 
browns, while the brilliant colors are confined to tropical 
regions a natural law which applies no less to habits of life. 
But Flanders, with her naturally brown and sober hues, has 
learned how to brighten the naturally foggy and sullen atmos- 
phere in the course of many a political revolution. From her 
old lords, the Dukes of Burgundy, she passed to the Kings 
of Spain and France ; she has been forced to seek allies in 
Holland and in Germany, and Flemish life bears witness to 
all these changes. There are traces of Spanish dominion in 
their lavish use of scarlet, of lustrous satins, in the bold 
designs of their tapestry, in their drooping feathers and man- 
dolins, in their stately and ceremonious customs. From 
Venice, in exchange for their linen and laces, they received 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 5 

the glasses of fantastic form in which the wine seems to glow 
with a richer color. From Austria they received the tradition 
of the grave and deliberate diplomacy which, to quote the 
popular adage, " made three steps in a bushel basket." 

Their trade with the Indies has brought them in abundance 
the grotesque inventions of China and the marvels of Japan. 
But with all their receptiveness, their power of absorbing 
everything, of giving out nothing, and of patiently enduring 
any yoke, Flanders could hardly be regarded as anything but 
an European curiosity shop, a mere confusion of nationalities, 
until the discovery of tobacco inaugurated a new era. Then 
the national character was fused and formed out of all these 
scattered elements, and the features of the first Fleming 
looked forth at last upon the world through a cloud of 
tobacco-smoke. Ever since that time no matter for their 
frontiers and their lands divided piecemeal there is no ques- 
tion of the solidarity of the Flemings ; they are one nation, 
thanks to the tankard and the tobacco-pipe. 

So Flanders, with its practical turn, has constantly assimi- 
lated the intellectual and material wealth of its masters and 
neighbors, until the country, originally so dreary and unro- 
mantic, has recast its life on a model of its own choosing, 
acquiring the habits and manners best suited to the Flemish 
temperament without apparently losing its own individuality 
or independence. The art of Flanders, for instance, did not 
strive after ideal forms ; it was content to reproduce the real 
as it had never been reproduced before. It is useless to ask 
this country of monumental poetry for the verve of comedy, 
for dramatic action, for musical genius, for the bolder flights 
of the epic or the ode ; its bent is rather for experimental 
science, for lengthy disputations, for work that demands time, 
and smells somewhat of the lamp. All their researches are of 
a practical kind, and must conduce to physical well-being. 
They look at facts and see nothing beyond them ; thought 
must bear the yoke and be subservient to the needs of life ; it 



6 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

must occupy itself with realities, and never soar above or 
beyond them. Their sole conception of a national career was 
a sort of political thrift, their force in insurrection was the 
outcome of an energetic desire to have sufficient elbow-room 
at table and to take their ease beneath the eaves of their 
steedes. 

It was this love of comfort, together with the independent 
attitude of mind which is a result of prosperity, that led them 
first to feel that desire for liberty which, later on, was to set 
all Europe in a ferment. Moreover, there is a dogged tena- 
city about a Fleming and a fixity of idea which makes him 
grow dangerous in the defence of his rights. They are a 
thorough people ; and whether it is a question of architecture 
or furniture, of dykes or agriculture or insurrection, they 
never do things by halves. No one can approach them in 
anything they set themselves to do. The manufacture of 
lace, involving the patient cultivation of flax and the still 
more patient labor of the worker, together with the industry 
of the linen weaver, have been the sources of their wealth 
from one generation to another. 

If you wished to paint stability incarnate, perhaps you 
could not do better than take some good burgomaster of the 
Low Countries for model ; a man not lacking in heroism, 
and, as has often been seen, ready to die in his citizen fashion 
an obscure death for the rights of his Hausa. 

But the grace and poetry of this patriarchal existence is 
naturally revealed in a description of one of the last remain- 
ing houses, which at the time when this story begins still 
preserved the traditions and the characteristics of that life in 
Douai. 

Of all places in the department of the Nord, Douai (alas!) 
is the town which is being modernized most rapidly ; mod- 
ern innovations are bringing about a revolution there. Old 
buildings are disappearing day by day, old-world ways are 
almost forgotten in the widespread zeal for social progress. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 7 

Douai now takes its tone, its ways of life, and its fashions 
from Paris ; in Douai there will soon be little left of the old 
Flemish tradition save its assiduous and cordial hospitality, 
together with the courtesy of Spain, the opulence and cleanli- 
ness of Holland. The old brick-built houses are being replaced 
by hotels with white-stone facings. Substantial Batavian com- 
fort is disappearing to make way for elegant frivolity imported 
from France. 

The house in which the events took place, which are to be 
described in the course of this story, was almost half-way down 
the Rue de Paris, and has borne in Douai, for more than two 
hundred years, the name of the " Maison Claes." 

The Van Claes had formerly been among the most celebrated 
of the families of craftsmen who founded the commercial 
prosperity of the Netherlands. For many generations Claes 
succeeded Claes as the Dean of the great and powerful Guild 
of Weavers in Ghent. When Charles V. endeavored to deprive 
the city of its privileges and Ghent rose in revolt, the wealth- 
iest of the Claes found himself so deeply compromised that, 
foreseeing the inevitable end and the fate reserved for him and 
his companions, he sent away his wife and children and valu- 
ables under a French escort, before the city was invested by 
the Imperial troops. Events proved that the fears of the 
Dean of the Guild were but too well founded. When the 
city capitulated, he and some few fellow-citizens were excepted 
by name from the general amnesty, and the defender of the 
rights and privileges of Ghent was hanged as a rebel against 
the Empire. The death of Claes and his companions bore 
its fruits ; in the years to come these useless cruelties were to 
cost the King of Spain the best part of the Netherlands. Of 
all seed sown on earth, the blood of the martyrs is the surest, 
and the harvest follows soonest upon the sowing. 

While Philip II. visited the sins of revolted Ghent upon its 
children's children, and ruled Douai with a rod of iron, the 
Claes (whose vast fortunes were unimpaired) connected them- 



8 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE.^ 

selves by marriage with the elder branch of the noble house 
of Molina, an alliance which repaired the fortunes of that 
illustrious family, and enabled them to purchase back their 
estates; and the broad lands of Nourho, in the kingdom of 
Leon, came to support an empty title. After this, the course 
of the family fortunes was sufficiently uneventful until the 
beginning of the nineteenth century, when the family of Claes, 
or rather the Douai branch of it, was represented in the per- 
son of M. Balthazar Claes-Molina, Count of Nourho, who 
preferred to style himself simply Balthazar Claes. Of all the 
vast wealth accumulated by his ancestors who had kept so 
many looms at work, and set in motion so many wheels of 
commerce, there remained to Balthazar an income of about 
fifteen thousand livres, derived from landed property in and 
around Douai, the house in the Rue de Paris, and its furniture, 
which was worth a little fortune. As for the estates in Leon, 
they had caused a lawsuit between Molina of Flanders and 
Molina of Spain. The Molinas of Leon gained the day, and 
assumed the title of Counts of Nourho, although in truth it 
belonged to the elder branch, the Flemish Claes ; but bour- 
geois vanity in the Belgian house rose superior to Castilian 
pride. 

When, therefore, formal designations were registered, Bal- 
thazar Claes put off the rags of Spanish nobility to shine with 
all the lustre of his descent from citizens of Ghent. The 
instinct of patriotism was so strong in the exiled families that 
until the very end of the eighteenth century the Claes remained 
faithful to family traditions, manners, and customs. They 
only married into the most strictly bourgeois families, requiring 
a certain number of aldermen, burgomasters, or the like civic 
dignitaries among the ancestors of the bride-elect before 
receiving her among them. Now and then a Claes would 
seek a wife in Bruges or Ghent, or as far away as Liege, or 
even in Holland, that so the old domestic traditions might be 
kept up. Their circle became gradually more and more 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE, 9 

restricted, until towards the end of the last century it was limited 
to some seven or eight families of municipal nobility, wearers 
of heavy-hanging, toga-like cloaks, who combined the digni- 
fied gravity of the magistrate with that of the Spanish grandee, 
and whose manner of life and habits were in harmony with their 
appearance. The family of Claes was looked on by the rest 
of the citizens with a kind of awe that was almost supersti- 
tious. The unswerving loyalty, the spotless integrity of the 
Claes, together with their staid, impressive demeanor under all 
circumstances, had given rise to a sort of legend of the Claes, 
and the " Maison Claes" was as much an institution in the 
city as the Fete de Gayant. The spirit of old Flanders seemed 
to fill the old house in the Rue de Paris, in which lovers of 
municipal antiquity would find a perfect example of the un- 
pretending houses which the wealthy burghers of the Middle 
Ages built for themselves to dwell in. 

The principal adornment of the house front was the great 
doorway with its folding leaves of oak, studded with large 
nails, arranged in groups of five ; in the centre the Claes had 
proudly carved their arms, two spindles conjoined. The 
pointed archway was of sandstone, and was surmounted by a 
little statuette of St. Genevieve with her spindle, set in a 
sort of shrine with a cross above it. The delicate carving 
about the shrine and the doorway had grown somewhat darker 
by the lapse of time ; but so carefully had it been kept by the 
owners of the house, that every detail was visible at a passing 
glance. The clustered shafts in the jams on either side the 
doorway had preserved their dark gray color, and shone as if 
their surfaces had been polished. The windows were all 
alike. The sill was supported by a richly-carved bracket, the 
window frame was of white stone and in the form of a cross, 
so that the window itself was divided into four unequal parts, 
the two lower lights being nearly twice the size of the upper. 
Each of the upper divisions was surmounted by an arch, 
which sprang from the height of the central mullion. These 



10 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

arches consisted of a triple row of bricks, each row jutting 
out above the one beneath it by way of ornament ; the bricks 
in each row, moreover, alternately projected and receded 
about an inch, so as to form a sort of checquer pattern. The 
small lozenge-shaped panes were set in exceedingly slender 
reticulating bars, which were painted red. 

For the sake of added strength a course of white stone was 
built at intervals into the brick walls, which were jointed with 
white mortar, and the corners of the house were constructed 
of white stone quoins. 

There were two windows on the ground floor, one on either 
side of the door, five in the first story, and but three in the 
second, while the third immediately beneath the roof was 
lighted by a single circular window, divided into five com- 
partments, and faced with sandstone. This window was set 
in the centre of the gable like a rose window over the arched 
gateway of a cathedral. 

The weathercock on the ridge of the roof was a spindle 
filled with flax. The two sides of the great gable rose step- 
wise from the height of the first story, and at this departing 
point a grotesque gargoyle on either side discharged the rain- 
water from the gutters. All around the base of the house there 
ran a projecting course of sandstone like a step. Finally, on 
either side, between the window and the door lay a trap-door, 
heavily bound and hinged with iron scroll-work, a relic of the 
days of yore. 

Ever since the house had been built the front had been 
carefully scoured twice a year; not a particle of mortar 
came loose or fell out but was immediately replaced. The 
costliest marbles in Paris are not kept so clean and so free 
from dust as the window-bars, sills, and outside stonework of 
this Flemish dwelling. The whole house front was in perfect 
preservation. The color of the surface of the brick might be 
somewhat darkened by time, but it was as carefully kept as an 
old picture or some book-lover's cherished folio treasures 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 11 

that would never grow old were it not for the noxious gases 
distilled by our atmosphere, which no less threaten the lives 
of their owners. The clouded skies of Flanders, the damp- 
ness of the climate, the absence of light or air caused by the 
somewhat narrow street, soon dimmed the glories of this pe- 
riodically renewed cleanliness, and, moreover, gave the house 
a dreary and depressing look. A poet would have welcomed 
a few blades of grass in the openwork of the little shrine, and 
some mosses on the surface of the sandstone ; he might have 
wished for a cleft or crack here and there in those too orderly 
rows of bricks, so that a swallow might find a place in which 
to build her nest beneath the red triple arches of the 
windows. 

There was an excessive neatness and smoothness about the 
house front, worn with repeated scourings ; an air of sedate 
propriety and of grim respectability which would have driven 
a romantic writer out of the opposite house if he had been so 
ill advised as to take up his abode there. This air of propriety 
and respectability was simply fatal to the spirit of romance. 

When a visitor had pulled the wrought-iron bell handle 
that hung by the side of the door, and a maidservant from 
some inner region had opened the heavy folding-doors, 
they fell to again with a clang that echoed up into the lofty 
roof of a great paved gallery, and died away in remote mur- 
murs through the house. You would have thought that the 
doors had been made of bronze. From the gallery, which was 
always cool, with its walls painted to resemble marble, and 
its paved floor strewn with fine sand, you entered a large 
square inner court paved with glazed tiles of a greenish color. 
To the left lay the kitchens, laundry, and servants' hall ; to 
the right the wood- house, the coal-cellars, and various offices. 
Every window and door was ornamented with carving, which 
was kept exquisitely spotless and free from dust. The whole 
place was shut in by four red walls striped with bars of white 
stone, so that the daylight which penetrated into it seemed in 



12 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

its passage to take a faint red tint, which was reflected by 
every figure, and gave a mysterious charm and strange unfa- 
miliar look to every least detail. 

On the further side of this courtyard stood that portion of 
the house in which the family lived, the quartier de derriere, 
as they call it in Flanders, a building exactly similar to the 
one facing the street. The first room on the ground floor 
was a parlor lighted by four windows ; two looked out upon 
the courtyard, and two upon a garden, a space of ground 
about as large as that on which the house was built. Access 
to this garden and to the courtyard was given by two opposite 
glass doors, which occupied the same relative position as the 
street door ; so that as soon as a stranger entered the whole 
house lay before him, as well as a distant vista of the greenery 
at the further end of the garden beyond it. 

Visitors were received in that portion of the house which 
looked out upon the street, and strangers were lodged in 
apartments in the second story ; but though these rooms con- 
tained works of art and costly furniture, there was nothing 
which, in the eyes of Claes himself, could be compared with 
the art treasures that filled the rooms which had been the 
centre of family life for centuries, and a discerning taste would 
have confirmed his judgment. The historian should not omit 
to record of the Claes who died for the cause of freedom in 
Ghent, that he had accumulated nearly forty thousand silver 
marks, gained by the manufacture of sail-cloths for the all- 
powerful navy of Venice. The Flemish craftsman was a man 
of substance, and had for his friend the celebrated wood- 
carver, Van Huysium, of Bruges. Many times the artist had 
had recourse to his friend's purse. When Ghent rose in revolt, 
Van Huysium, then himself a wealthy man, had secretly 
carved for his old friend a piece of paneling of massive ebony, 
on which he had wrought the story of Van Artevelde, the 
brewer who for a little while ruled over Flanders. This piece 
of woodwork consisted of sixty panels, and contained about 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 13 

fourteen hundred figures; it was considered to be Van Huy- 
sium's masterpiece. 

When Charles V. made up his mind to celebrate his entry 
into the city which gave him birth by hanging twenty-six of 
its burghers, the victims were consigned to the custody of a 
captain, who (so it was said) had offered to connive at Claes' 
escape in return for these panels of Van Huysium's, but the 
weaver had previously sent them into France. 

The parlor in the house in the Rue de Paris was wainscoted 
entirely with these panels. Van Huysium, out of respect for 
the memory of the martyr, had come himself to set them in 
their wooden framework, painted with ultramarine, and cov- 
ered with a gilded network, so that this is the most complete 
example of a master whose least fragments are now worth 
their weight in gold. Titian's portrait of Claes in the robes 
that he wore as President of the Tribunal des Parchons looked 
down from the chimney-piece ; he still seemed to be the head 
of the family which regarded him with veneration as its great 
man. The chimney-piece, itself originally plain stone, had 
been reconstructed of white marble during the eighteenth 
century. A venerable timepiece stood upon the ledge be- 
tween two five-branched candle-sconces, tortuous, elaborate, 
and in the worst possible taste, but all of massive silver. The 
four windows were draped with crimson brocaded damask 
curtains, covered with a dark flowered pattern, and lined with 
white silk ; the furniture had been re-covered with the same 
material in the time of Louis XIV. The polished floor was 
evidently modern large squares of white wood, with slips of 
oak inserted between them, but the ceiling yet preserved the 
peculiarly deep hues of Dutch oak. Perhaps it had been re- 
spected because Van Huysium had carved the masks on the 
medallions bordered with scrolls which adorned it. 

In each of the four corners of the parlor stood a short 
column, with a five-branched silver sconce upon it, like those 
upon the chimney-piece, and a round table occupied the 



14 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLU7"E. 

centre of the room. Several card -tables were ranged along 
the walls with much precision ; and on the white marble slabs 
of two gilded console tables stood, at the time when this story 
begins, two glass globes full of water, in which gold and silver 
fish were swimming above a bed of sand and shells. 

The room was sombre, and yet aglow with color. The 
ceiling of dark oak seemed to absorb the light, and to give 
none of it back into the room. If the sunlight pouring in 
from the windows that looked out into the garden scintillated 
from every polished ebony figure on the opposite wall, the 
light admitted from the courtyard was always so faint that 
even the gold network on the other side looked dim in the 
perpetual twilight. 

A bright day brought out all the glories of the place ; but, 
for the most part, its hues were subdued and soft, and, like the 
sombre browns and reds of autumn forests, they took brighter 
hues only in the sun. It is unnecessary to describe the 
" Maison Claes " at further length. Many of the scenes in 
the course of this story will, of course, take place in other 
parts of the house, but it will be sufficient for the present to 
have some idea of its general arrangement. 

On a Sunday afternoon towards the end of August, in the 
year 1812, a woman was sitting in a large easy-chair by one 
of the windows that looked out on the garden. It was after 
the time of vespers. The rays of sunlight falling on the side 
of the house slanted across the room in broad beams, played 
with fantastic effect on the opposite wall, and died away 
among the sombre ebony figures of the panels ; but the 
woman sat in the purple shadow cast by the damask curtain. 
A painter of mediocre ability could not have failed to make 
a striking picture if he had faithfully portrayed a face with so 
sad and wistful an expression. The woman was sitting with 
her feet stretched out before her in a listless attitude ; appar- 
ently she had lost all consciousness of her physical existence, 
and one all-absorbing thought had complete possession of her 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 15 

mind, a thought which seemed to open up the paths of the 
future just as a ray of sunlight piercing through the clouds 
lights up a gleaming path on the horizon of the sea. Her 
hands hung over the arms of the chair ; her head, as though 
it bore a load of thought too heavy, had fallen back against 
the cushions. She wore a loose cambric gown, very simply 
made; the scarf about her shoulders was carelessly knotted on 
her breast, so that the lines of her figure were almost concealed. 
Apparently she preferred to call attention to her face rather 
than to her person ; and it was a face which, even if it had 
not been brought into strong relief by the light, would have 
arrested and fixed the attention of any beholder, for its ex- 
pression of dull, hopeless misery would have struck the most 
heedless child. Nothing is more terrible to witness than such 
anguish as this in one who seldom gives way to it ; the burning 
tears that fell from time to time seemed like the fiery lava flood 
of a volcano. So might a dying mother weep who is com- 
pelled to leave her children in the lowest depths of wretched- 
ness without a single human protector. 

The lady seemed to be about forty years of age. She was more 
nearly beautiful now than she had ever been in her girlhood. 
Clearly she was no daughter of the land. Her hair was thick 
and black, and fell in curls over her shoulders and about her 
face ; her forehead was very prominent, narrow at the temples, 
sallow in hue, but the black eyes flashed fire from beneath her 
brows, and she had the dark pallor of the typical Spaniard. 
The perfect oval of her face attracted a second glance ; the 
ravages of smallpox had destroyed the delicacy of its outlines, 
but had not marred its graciousness and dignity ; at times it 
seemed as if the soul had power to restore to it all its pristine 
purity of form. If pride of birth was revealed in the thick 
tightly-folded lips, there was also natural kindliness and gra- 
ciousness in their expression ; but the feature which gave most 
distinction to a masculine type of face was an aquiline nose. 
Its curve was somewhat too strongly marked, the result, 



16 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

apparently, of some interior defect; but there was a subtle 
refinement in its outlines, in the thin septum and fine transpa- 
rent nostrils that glowed in the light with a bright red. She 
was a woman who might, or might not, be considered beauti- 
ful, but no one could fail to notice the vigorous yet feminine 
head. 

. She was short, lame, and deformed ; she had married later 
than women usually do, and this partly because it was insisted 
that her slow-wittedness was stupidity; yet more than one 
man had read the indications of ardent passion and of inex- 
haustible tenderness in her face, and had fallen completely 
under the spell of a charm that was difficult to reconcile with 
so many defects. She bore in many ways a strong resemblance 
to the Spanish grandee, her ancestor, the Duke of Casa-Real. 
Perhaps the force of the charm which romantic natures had 
erewhile found so tyrannous, the power of a fascination that 
sways men's hearts, but is powerless to rule their destinies, had 
never in her life been greater than now, when it was wasted, 
so to speak, on empty space. She seemed to be watching the 
gold fish in the glass before her, but in truth her eyes saw 
nothing, and she raised them from time to time, as if implor- 
ing heaven in despair ; it would seem that such trouble as hers 
could be confided to God alone. 

The room was perfectly silent save for the chirping of the 
crickets without ; the shrill notes of a few cicadas came in 
with a breath of hot air from the little garden, which was like 
a furnace in the afternoon sun. From a neighboring room 
there came smothered sounds; silver or china rattled, or 
chairs were moved, as the servants laid the cloth for dinner. 

Suddenly the lady started and seemed to listen ; she took 
her handkerchief, dried her eyes, and endeavored to smile ; so 
successfully did she efface all traces of sorrow, that from her 
seeming serenity it might have been thought that she had 
never known an anxiety or a care in her life. It was the 
sound of a man's footstep that had wrought the change. It 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 17 

ecnoed in the long gallery built over the kitchens and the ser- 
vants' quarters, which united the front part of the house with 
the back portion in which the family lived. Whether it was 
because weak health had so long confined her to the house 
that she could recognize the least noise in it at once ; or 
because a highly-wrought temperament ever on the watch can 
detect sounds that are imperceptible to ordinary ears ; or be- 
cause nature, in compensation for so many physical disadvan- 
tages, had bestowed a gift of sense-perception seldom accorded 
to human beings apparently more happily constituted ; this 
sense of hearing was abnormally acute in her. The sound of 
the footsteps came nearer and nearer. And soon, not only for 
an impassioned soul such as hers, which can annilhilate time 
and space at will that so it may find its other self, but for any 
stranger, a man's step on the staircase which led to the parlor 
was audible enough. 

There was something in the sound of that footstep which 
would have struck the most careless mortal ; it was impossible 
to hear it with indifference. We are excited by the mere 
sounds of hurry or flight ; when a man springs up and raises 
the alarm of "Fire ! " his feet are at least as eloquent as his 
tongue, and the impression left by a slow, measured tread is 
every whit as powerful. The deliberate, heavy, lagging foot- 
fall in the gallery would no doubt have irritated impatient 
people ; but a nervous person, or an observer of human 
nature, could scarcely have heard it without feeling a thrill of 
something very like dread. Was there any life in those feet 
that moved so mechanically? It was a dull, heavy sound, as 
if the floor boards had been struck by an iron weight. The 
slow, uncertain step called up visions of a man bending under 
a load of years, or of a thinker walking majestically beneath 
the weight of worlds. The man reached the lowest stair, 
and set foot upon the pavement slowly and irresolutely. In 
the great hall he paused for a moment. A passage led thence 
to the servants' quarters, a door concealed in the wainscot 
2 



18 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

gave admittance to the parlor, and through a second parallel 
door you entered the dining-room. 

A light tremor, caused by a sensation like an electric shock, 
ran through the frame of the woman in the easy-chair ; but a 
sweet smile trembled on her lips, her face lighted up with 
eager expectation, and grew fair and radiant like the face of 
an Italian Madonna. She summoned all her strength, and 
forced back her terrors into some inner depth ; then she 
turned and looked towards the door set in the panels in the 
corner of the parlor ; it flew open so suddenly that the start- 
ling sound was quite sufficient to account for and to cover her 
agitation. 

Balthazar Claes appeared and made several paces forward ; 
he either did not look at the woman in the low chair, or if he 
looked at her, it was with unseeing eyes. He stood upright 
in the middle of the parlor, his head slightly bent, and sup- 
ported by his right hand. The smile faded from the woman's 
face ; her heart was pierced by a horrible pang, felt none the 
less keenly because it had come to be a part of her daily 
experience } her dark brows contracted with pain, deepening 
lines already traced there by the frequent expression of strong 
feelingj and her eyes filled with tears, which she hastily 
brushed away, as she looked ct Balthazar. 

There was something exceedingly impressive about the head 
of the house of Claes. In his younger days he had borne a 
strong resemblance to the heroic martyr who had threatened 
to play the part of Artevelde and defied the Emperor, 
Charles V.; but at the present moment the man of fifty or 
thereabouts might have been sixty years of age and more ; 
and with the beginnings of a premature old age, the likeness 
to his great-minded ancestor had ceased. His tall figure was 
slightly bent ; perhaps he had contracted the habit by stoop- 
ing over his books, or perhaps the curvature was due to the 
weight of a head over-heavy for the spine. He was broad- 
chested and square-shouldered ; his lower extremities, though 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 19 

muscular, were thin ; you could not help casting about for 
some explanation of this puzzling singularity in a frame which 
evidently had once been perfectly proportioned. His thick, 
fair hair fell carelessly over his shoulders in the German 
fashion, in a disorder which was quite in keeping with a 
strange air of slovenliness and general neglect. His forehead 
was broad and high ; the prominence of the region to which 
Gall has assigned ideality was very strongly marked. The 
clear, dark-blue eyes seemed to have a power of keen an,d 
quick vision, a characteristic often noted in students of occult 
sciences. The shape of the nose had doubtless once been 
perfect ; it was very long, the nostrils had apparently grown 
wider by involuntary tension of the muscles in the continual 
exercise of the sense of smell. The hollows in a face which 
was beginning to age seemed all the deeper by force of con- 
trast with the high cheek-bones, thickly covered with short 
hair. The mouth with its gracious outlines seemed, as it 
were, to be imprisoned between the nose and a short, sharply 
turned-up chin. 

Certain theorists, who have a fancy for discerning animal 
resemblances in human countenances, would have seen in the 
long, rather than oval, face of Balthazar Claes a likeness to 
the head of a horse. There was no softness or roundness 
about its outlines ; the skin was tightly drawn over the bones 
as if it had shrunk under the scorching influence of a fire 
that burned within ; there were moments when the eyes 
looked out into space as if seeking for the realization of his 
hopes, and at such times this fire that consumed him seemed 
to escape from his nostrils. 

There are deep thoughts which seem to be living forces of 
which great men are the embodiment ; some such thought 
seemed to be visibly expressed in the pale face with its deeply- 
carved wrinkles, to have scored the furrows on a brow like 
that of some old king full of cares, and to shine forth most 
clearly from the brilliant eyes ; the fire in them seemed to be 



20 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

fed by the temperate life which is the result of the tyrannous 
discipline of great ideas, and by the fires of a mighty intelli- 
gence. They were deeply set and surrounded by dark circles, 
which seemed to tell of long vigils and of terrible prostration 
of mind consequent on reiterated disappointments, of hopes 
that sprang up anew only to be blighted, of wear and tear of 
body and mind. Art and science are jealous divinities ; their 
devotees betray themselves by unmistakable signs. There was 
a, dreamy abstractedness and aloofness in Balthazar Claes' 
manner and bearing which was quite in keeping with the 
magnificent head so lacking in human quality. His large 
hands, covered with hair, were soiled ; there were jet-black 
lines at the tips of the long finger-nails. There was an air of 
slovenliness about the master of the house which would not 
have been tolerated in any of its other inmates. 

His shoes were seldom cleaned, or the laces were broken or 
missing. His black cloth breeches were covered with stains, 
buttons were lacking on his waistcoat, his cravat was askew, 
his coat had assumed a greenish tint, here and there the seams 
had given way ; everything about him, down to the smallest 
trifle, combined to produce an uncouth effect, which in another 
would have indicated the lowest depths of outcast misery, but 
in Balthazar Claes it was the neglect of genius. 

Vice and genius bring about results so similar that ordinary 
people are often misled by them. What is genius but a form 
of excess which consumes time and money and health and 
strength ? It is an even shorter road to the hospital than the 
path of the prodigal. Men, moreover, appear to pay more 
respect to vice than to genius ; for they decline to give it 
credit or credence. It would seem that genius concerns itself 
with aims so far remote, that society is shy of casting accounts 
with it in its lifetime; such poverty and wretchedness are 
clearly unpardonable. Society prefers to have nothing to do 
with genius. 

Yet there were moments when it would have been hard 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 21 

to refuse admiration to Balthazar Claes moments when, in 
spite of his absent-mindedness and mysterious preoccupation, 
some impulse drew him to his fellows, and the face of the 
thinker was lighted up by a kindly thought expressed in the 
eyes, the hard light in them disappeared, and he looked 
round him and returned (so to speak) to life and its realities ; 
at such times there was an attractive beauty in his face, a 
gracious spirit looked forth from it. Any one who saw him 
then would regret that such a man should lead the life of a 
hermit, and add that " he must have been very handsome in 
his youth." A vulgar error. Balthazar Claes had never 
looked more interesting than at this moment. Lavater 
would certainly have studied the noble head, have recog- 
nized the unwearying patience, the stainless character, the 
steadfast loyalty of the Fleming, the great and magnanimous 
nature, the power of passion that seemed calm because it was 
strong. Such a man would have been a constant and de- 
voted friend, his morals would have been pure, his word 
sacred ; all these qualities should have been dedicated to the 
service of his country, to his own circle of friends, and to 
his family ; it was the will of the man which had given them 
a fatal misdirection ; and the citizen, the responsible head of 
a household and disposer of a large fortune, who should have 
been the guide of his children towards a fair future, lived 
apart in a world of his own in converse with a familiar spirit, 
a world in which his duties and affections counted for nothing. 
A priest would have seen in him a man inspired by God, an 
artist would have hailed him as a great master, an enthusiast 
might have taken him for some seer after the pattern of 
Sweden borg. 

As he stood by the window, his ragged, disordered, and 
threadbare costume was in strange contrast with the graceful 
dainty attire of the woman who watched him so sadly. A 
nice taste in dress often distinguishes persons of mental ability 
or refinement of soul who suffer from bodily deformity. They 



22 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

are conscious that their beauty is the beauty of mind and 
soul, and are content to dress simply, or they discover how 
to divert attention from their physical defects by a studied 
elegance in every detail. And the woman in the low chair 
had not only a generous soul, but she loved Balthazar Claes 
with that woman's intuition which is a foretaste of the intel- 
ligence of angels. She had been brought up in one of the 
noblest families of Belgium, so that even if her taste had not 
been instinctive it would have been acquired ; and, tutored 
since then by her desire to please the eyes of the man she 
loved, she had learned to dress herself admirably, and to adopt 
a style which subdued the effect of her deformity. Moreover, 
although one shoulder was certainly larger than the other, 
there was no other defect in her figure. She glanced through 
the window into the courtyard, and then into the garden, as 
if to make sure that no one was within hearing, turned 
meekly to Balthazar, and spoke in the low tones that Flemish 
women use, for the love between these two had long since 
conquered Castilian pride. 

"You must be very deep in your work, Balthazar? This 
is the thirty-third Sunday since you have been to mass or 
vespers." 

Claes made no reply. His wife bowed her head, clasped 
her hands, and waited, watching him the while. She knew 
that his silence was due neither to contempt nor to indiffer- 
ence, but to the tyranny of an all-absorbing thought. In the 
depths of some natures the sensitive delicacy of youth lingers 
long after youth has departed, and Balthazar Claes would have 
shrunk from uttering any thought that might wound, however 
slightly, a woman -who was always oppressed with the painful 
consciousness of her physical deformity. And this dread was 
ever present with him. He understood, as few men do, how 
a word or a single glance has the power to efface the happiness 
of whole years; nay, that such words have a more cruel 
power, because they are utterly at variance with the constant 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 23 

tenderness of the past ; for we are so made that our happiness 
makes us more keenly sensitive to pain, while sorrow has no 
such power of intensifying a transitory gleam of joy. After a 
few moments, Balthazar roused himself, gave a quick glance 

round him, and said, "Vespers? Ah! the children have 

gone to vespers." 

He stepped towards the window and looked out into the 
garden, where the tulips blazed in all their glory. Then he 
stopped suddenly, as if he had come into collision with a wall, 
and exclaimed, "Why should they not combine in a given 
time?" 

"Can he be going mad?" his terrified wife asked herself. 

If the reader is to understand the interest of this scene, and 
the situation out of which it arose, it will be necessary to 
glance over the previous history of Balthazar Claes and of the 
granddaughter of the Duke of Casa-Real. 

Towards the end of the year 1783, M. Balthazar Clacs- 
Molina de Nourho, then twenty-two years of age, might have 
passed for a " fine gentleman," as we say in France. He had 
just completed his education in Paris ; his manners had been 
formed in the society of Mme. d'Egmont, a set composed of 
Frenchmen who came originally of Belgian families, or of 
Belgians distinguished either by birth or by fortune. Great 
nobles and persons of the highest fashion, such as the Count 
of Horn, the Prince of Aremberg, the Spanish Ambassador, 
and Helvetius were among the Belgian residents in Paris. 
The young Claes had relations and friends there who intro- 
duced him into the great world, just as the great world was 
about to return to chaos ; but, like many young men, he was 
attracted at first by glory and by knowledge rather than by 
frivolity. He frequented the society of learned men, waxed 
enthusiastic for science, and became an ardent disciple of 
Lavoisier, who was then better known for the vast fortune he 
had acquired as farmer-general of taxes than for the scientific 



24 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

discoveries which were to make the name of the great chemist 
famous long after the farmer-general was forgotten. 

But Claes was young, and as handsome as Helvetius, and 
Lavoisier was not his only instructor. Under the tuition of 
women in Paris he soon learned to distil the more volatile 
elixirs of wit and gallantry ; and although he had previously 
thrown himself into his studies with an enthusiasm that had 
won the commendations of his master, he deserted Lavoisier's 
laboratory to take final lessons in savoir-vivrc under the guid- 
ance of the arbitresses of good manners and good taste, the 
queens of the high society which forms a sort of family all 
over Europe. 

These intoxicating dreams of success did not last long 
however ; Balthazar Claes breathed the air of Paris for a 
while ; and then, in no long time, he turned his back on the 
capital, wearied by the empty life, which had nothing in it to 
satisfy an enthusiastic and affectionate nature. It seemed to 
him that the quiet happiness of family life, a vision called up 
by the very name of his native Flanders, was the life best 
suited to his character and to the aspirations of his heart. The 
gilding of Parisian salons had not effaced old memories of the 
sombre harmonies of the parlor in the old house in Douai, of 
the little garden, and the happy days of his childhood. 

Those who would fain dwell in Paris should have no ties of 
home or of fatherland. Paris is the chosen city of the cosmo- 
politan, or of those who are wedded to social ambition ; by 
means of art, science, or political power, they gain a hold on 
the world which they never relax. 

The child of Flanders went back to the house in Douai as 
La Fontaine's pigeon flew home to its nest. It was the day 
of the Fte Gayant, and tears came into his eyes at the sight 
of the procession. Gayant, the Luck of the city, the embodi- 
ment of the spirit of old Flemish traditions, had been intro- 
duced into Douai since his family had been driven to take 
refuge there. The Maison Claes was empty and silent ; his 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 25 

father and mother had died during his absence, and for some 
time family affairs required his presence there. 

After the first sorrow for his loss his thoughts turned to 
marriage. All the sacred ties which bound him to his home 
and the pieties of the hearth had reawakened a strong desire 
in him to complete the happy existence of which he had 
dreamed ; he determined to do as his forefathers had done, 
and went to Ghent, to Bruges, and to Antwerp in search of a 
bride. He probably had ideas of his own as to marriage, for 
it had always been said of him from his earliest youth that he 
never could keep to the beaten track, or do as other people 
did. 

It so fell out that one day while on a visit to one of his 
relations in Ghent, he heard of a young lady in Brussels 
concerning whom opinions differed considerably. Some con- 
sidered that Mile. Temninck's beauty was quite spoiled by her 
deformity, others hotly insisted that she was perfection. 
Among these last was Balthazar Claes' somewhat elderly 
cousin, who told his guests that, beautiful or no, Mile. Tem- 
ninck had a soul which would have induced him to marry her 
if he had been choosing a wife. And with that he told how 
she had given up all her claims on the family estate so that 
her younger brother might make a marriage befitting his rank 
and name; thus setting his happiness before her own, and 
sacrificing her life to him, for it was scarcely to be expected 
that Mile. Temninck would marry now that she had no fortune 
and the bloom of youth was past, when no suitor had presented 
himself for the heiress in her girlhood. 

A few days later Balthazar Claes had obtained an introduc- 
tion to Mile. Temninck, now a woman twenty-five years of 
age, and had fallen deeply in love with her. Josephine de 
Temninck chose to regard this as a passing fancy, and refused 
to listen to M. Claes; but the influence of passion is very 
subtle, and in this love for her in a man who had youth and 
good looks and a straight, well-knit frame, there was something 



26 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

so attractive to the poor lame and deformed girl that she 
yielded to it. 

Could a whole volume suffice to tell the story of the love 
that thus dawned in the girl's heart? The world had pro- 
nounced her to be plain, and she had meekly acquiesced in 
the decision, conscious though she was of possessing the irre- 
sistible charm which calls forth true and lasting love. And 
now at the prospect of happiness, what fierce jealousy awoke 
in her, what wild projects of vengeance if a rival stole a 
glance, what agitations and fears such as seldom fall to the lot 
of women, which cannot but lose by being passed over in a 
few brief words ! The analysis must be minute. Doubt, the 
dramatic element in love, would be the keynote of a story in 
which certain souls would find once more the poetry of those 
early days of uncertainty, long since lost but not forgotten. 
The ecstacy in the depths of the heart which the face never 
betrays, the fear of not being understood, and the unspeakable 
joy of a swift response ; the misgivings which lead the soul 
to shrink within itself; the moments when, as if drawn forth 
by some magnetic power, the soul reveals itself in the eyes by 
infinite subtle shades ; wild thoughts of suicide that arise at a 
word, only to be laid to rest by a tone in a voice whose vibra- 
tions reveal unsuspected depths of feeling; tremulous glances 
full of terrible audacity ; swift, passionate longings to speak 
or act rendered powerless by their very vehemence ; commun- 
ings of soul with soul in commonplace phrases which owe all 
their eloquence to the faltering of the voice ; mysterious work- 
ings of that divine discretion and modesty of soul which is 
generous in the shade, and finds exquisite delight in sacrifices 
which can never be recognized ; youthful love, in short, with 
the weaknesses of its strength. 

Mile. Josephine de Temninck was a coquette through lofti- 
ness of soul. The painful consciousness of her deformity 
made her as unapproachable and hard to please as the prettiest 
of women. She dreaded that a day would come when her 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 27 

lover would cease to care for her, and the thought awakened 
her pride and destroyed her confidence in herself. With 
stoical firmness, she locked away in her inmost heart the first 
feelings of happiness in which other women love to deck 
themselves in the eyes of the world. The more love drew her 
to Balthazar Claes, the less she dared to give expression to 
love. A glance, a gesture, a question, or a response from a 
pretty woman would have been flattering to a man ; but for 
her, was not any advance a humiliating speculation ? A 
pretty woman can be herself, people look leniently on her 
follies or mistakes; but a single glance has power to stop the 
play of expression on a plain woman's features, to make her 
still more timid, shy, and awkward. Does she not know that 
she of all women can afford no blunders ; that no indulgence 
will be extended to her ; nay, that no one will give her any 
opportunity of repairing them ? She must always be faultless ; 
does not the thought chill and dishearten her while the con- 
stant strain exhausts her powers ? Such a woman can only 
live in an atmosphere of divine indulgence, and where can the 
hearts be found in which indulgence is not poisoned by a 
lurking taint of pity? 

There is a sort of consideration more painful to sensitive 
souls than even positive unkindness, for it aggravates their 
misfortunes by continually giving them prominence. The 
cruel politeness of society was intolerable to Mile, de Tem- 
ninck. She schooled herself into self-repression, forced back 
into some inner depth the most beautiful thoughts that rose in 
her soul, and took refuge in an icy reserve of manner and 
bearing. She only dared to love in secret, and was eloquent 
or charming only in solitude. She was plain and insignificant 
in broad daylight, but she would have been a beautiful woman 
if she could have lived by candlelight. Not seldom she had 
made perilous trials of Balthazar's love, risking her whole 
happiness to be the surer of it, disdaining the aid of dress and 
ornaments, by which the effect of deformity could be softened 



28 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

or concealed, and the Spaniard's eyes grew full of witchery 
when she saw that even thus she was beautiful for Balthazar 
Claes. 

Yet even the rare moments when she ventured to give her- 
self up to the joy of being loved were embittered by distrust 
and fears. Before long she began to ask herself whether Claes 
wished to marry her that he might have a docile slave, whether 
he had not some defect which made him content to wed a 
poor deformed girl. The doubts and anxieties which con- 
tinually harassed her made those hours unspeakably precious, 
in which she felt sure that this was a true and lasting love 
which should make her amends for all the slights of the world. 
She provoked discussions on the delicate subject of her own 
plainness, dwelling upon it and exaggerating it that she might 
the better probe her lover's nature, and came in this way by 
some truths but little flattering ; yet she loved him for the 
perplexity in which he found himself when she had led him 
on to say that a woman is most beloved for a beautiful soul 
and for the devotion which makes the days of life flow on in 
quiet happiness ; that after a few years of marriage a wife may 
be the loveliest woman on earth or the plainest, it makes no 
difference to her husband. In support of this theory he had 
heaped together such truth as lies in various paradoxical asser- 
tions that beauty is of very little consequence, till he suddenly 
became aware of the ungraciousness of his arguments. All 
the goodness of his heart was revealed by the tact and delicacy 
with which he gradually changed his ground and made Mile. 
de Temninck understand that' for him she was perfect. 

Perhaps, in a woman, devotion is the highest height of 
love. Devotion was not wanting in this girl who did not 
dare to hope that love would not fail. She felt attracted by 
the prospect of a struggle in which sentiment was to triumph 
over beauty; there was something great, she thought, in 
giving herself to love with no blind faith that love would last ; 
and finally, this happiness, brief as it might prove, must cost 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 29 

her so dear that she could not refuse to taste it. These ques- 
tionings and inward struggles gave all the charm, all the 
varying moods of passion to this exalted nature, and inspired 
in Balthazar a love that was almost chivalrous. 

The marriage took place in the beginning of the year 1795. 
They went back to Douai to spend the first weeks of their 
married life in the ancestral home of the Claes. The house- 
hold treasures there had been increased. Mile, de Temninck 
brought with her several fine paintings by Murillo and Velas- 
quez, her mother's diamonds, and the splendid wedding pres- 
ents sent by her brother, who had succeeded to the title, and 
was now Duke of Casa-Real. Few women were as happy as 
Mme. Claes. There was not the slightest cloud in the happi- 
ness that lasted for fifteen years, a happiness that, like a bright 
light, transformed even the most trivial details of daily life. 

In most men there are inequalities of character which cause 
continual dissonances, small weaknesses that lead to bicker- 
ings, till the harmony of domestic life is spoiled, and the fair 
ideals perish. One man may be conscientious and hard work- 
ing, but he is hard and stern ; another is good-natured, but 
obstinate ; a third will love his wife sincerely, but he never 
knows his own mind ; while a fourth is so absorbed in his am- 
bitions that he looks on affection as a debt to be discharged, 
and if he gives all the vanities of fortune he takes all joy out 
of the day. 

Mediocrity, in short, is by its very nature incomplete, 
though its sins of omission and commission are not heinous. 
Clever folk are as changeable as the barometer, genius alone 
is essentially good. Perfect happiness is accordingly only to be 
found at either extreme of the intellectual scale ; there is a 
like equability of temperament in the good-natured idiot and 
in the man of genius, arising in the one case from weakness, 
and in the other from strength of character. Both are capable 
of a constant sweetness of temper, which softens the rough- 
nesses of life. In the one its source is an easy good-natured 



30 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

tolerance, and in the other it springs from indulgence; a 
man of genius, moreover, is the interpreter of a sublime thought, 
which cannot fail to bring his whole life into conformity with 
itself. Both natures are simple and transparent ; the one 
because of its shallowness, the other by reason of its depth. 
Clever women, therefore, are sufficiently ready to take a dunce 
as the best substitute for a man of genius. 

Balthazar's greatness of character showed itself from the 
first in the most trivial details of life. Conjugal love was a 
magnificent thing in his eyes ; he determined to develop all 
its beauty; and, like all powerful characters, he could not 
bear that there should be any falling short in attainment. His 
ingenuity continually varied the calm monotony of happiness, 
and everything that he did bore the stamp of a noble nature. 
For instance, although he was in sympathy with the philo- 
sophical movement of the eighteenth century, he installed a 
priest in his household until the year 1801 (a step which laid 
him open to the severe penalties of the Revolutionary code), 
humoring the bigoted Catholicism which his Spanish wife had 
imbibed with her mother's milk. After the Roman Catholic 
worship was restored in France, he went with her every Sun- 
day to mass. 

His attachment never quitted the forms of passion. He 
never asserted the protecting power that women love so well 
to feel, because to his wife it would have seemed like pity. 
On the contrary, by a most ingenious form of flattery, he 
treated her as his equal, and would break into playful rebellion 
against her authority, as a man will sometimes permit himself 
to set the power of a pretty woman at defiance. A smile of 
happiness always hovered upon his lips, and his tones were 
unvaryingly gentle. 

He loved his Josephine for her sake and for his own with 
a warmth and intensity which is a constant tribute to the 
beauty and character of a wife. Fidelity, often the result of 
social, religious, or interested considerations, seemed in his 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 31 

case to be involuntary, and was always accompanied by the 
sweet flatteries of the springtime of love. Duty was the sole 
obligation of marriage which was unknown to these two equally 
loving beings, for Balthazar Claes found in Josephine de 
Temninck a constant and complete realization of his hopes. 
His heart was always satisfied to the full ; he was always happy, 
and never weary of his happiness. As might have been ex- 
pected, the granddaughter of the house of Casa-Real, with 
her Spanish blood, possessed the secret of an "infinite variety," 
but she had no less capacity for a limitless devotion, and a 
woman's genius lies in devotion, as all her beauty consists in 
grace. Her love was a blind fanaticism ; at a sign from him 
she would have gone joyfully to her death. Balthazar's deli- 
cacy had brought out all the womanly generosity of her nature, 
and she longed to give more than she received. This mutual 
exchange of a happiness which each in turn lavished upon the 
other visibly centered her life without her, and filled her 
words, her looks, and actions with a love that only grew 
stronger with time. On all sides gratitude enriched and 
varied the life of the heart, just as the certainty that each lived 
only for the other made littleness impossible, and the least 
accessories of such a life ceased to be trivialities. 

But in the whole feminine creation are there any happier 
women than the deformed wife who is not crooked for the 
eyes she loves, the lame woman when her husband would not 
have her other than she is, and the wife grown old and gray 
who is still young for him ? Human passion can go no further 
than this. When a woman is adored for what is usually 
regarded as a defect, is not this her greatest glory? It is easy 
to forget in a moment's fascination that a woman does not 
walk straight ; but when she is loved because she is lame, it is 
the apotheosis of her infirmity. In the evangel of women 
these words should perhaps be written, " Blessed are the im- 
perfect, for theirs is the kingdom of love." And of a truth 
beauty must be a misfortune for a woman, for the flower of 



32 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

beauty that withers so soon counts for so much in the feeling 
that she inspires ; is she not loved for her beauty as an heiress 
is wedded for her gold ? But a woman without this perishable 
dower, after which the children of Adam seek so eagerly, 
knows the love that is love indeed, the inmost mystery of 
passion, the union of soul with soul. The day of disillusion 
can never come for her. Her charm is not recognized by the 
world, she owes it no allegiance, and is fair for one alone; 
and when she makes it her glory that her defects should be 
forgotten, she cannot but succeed in her aim. 

Accordingly, the best-loved women in history have been by 
no means perfectly beautiful for ordinary eyes ; Cleopatra, 
Joanna of Naples, Diana of Poitiers, Mile, de la Valliere, 
Mme. de Pompadour, and nearly all women famous through- 
out the world for the love which they once inspired, have had 
their defects and shortcomings, while others of whom it is 
recorded that there was no flaw in their loveliness have over 
and over again seen love end in piteous tragedy. Do man- 
kind live, after all, rather by sentiment than by pleasure? 
Perhaps there is a limit to the charm of mere physical beauty, 
while the beauty of the soul is infinite? Is not this the 
moral of the tale which forms a setting to the "Arabian 
Nights?" If Henry VIII. had found a hard-featured wife, 
she might have defied the axe and retained the wandering 
fancy of her royal master. 

Mme. Claes was ill educated, a curious circumstance, but 
explainable enough in the daughter of a Spanish grandee. 
She could read and write, but until her parents took her from 
the convent where her girlhood was spent (that is to say, until 
she was twenty years old) she had read nothing, but the works 
of religious ascetics. On her entrance into society, and for a 
little while after, she had been too eager for amusement to 
learn anything but the frivolous arts of the toilet ; and 
later, she had been so deeply mortified by her ignorance that 
she never ventured to take any part in conversation, and was 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 33 

set down in consequence as an unintelligent girl. But one 
result of her neglected and mystical education had been that 
her natural capacities for thought and feeling had been 
unspoiled. In society she was as plain and uninteresting as 
an heiress; but for her husband she grew beautiful and 
thoughtful. 

Balthazar made some attempt, it is true, in the early years 
of their marriage to teach his wife, so that she might not feel 
at a disadvantage in this way, but doubtless he was too late, 
for Josephine had no memory save that of the heart. She 
never forgot a syllable that he let fall concerning themselves; 
every least detail of their happy life was fresh in her mind, 
while yesterday's lesson was forgotten. This invincible 
ignorance might have brought about serious discords between 
many a husband and wife ; but Mme. Claes' love for her 
husband was almost a religion, and the intuition of passionate 
love and desire to preserve her happiness had made her quick- 
witted. She so contrived matters that she always appeared to 
understand, and her ignorance was very seldom too apparent. 
Not only so, but when two love each other so well that every 
day seems for them the first day of their love, such vital 
happiness has a marvelous power of transforming the whole 
conditions of life. Does it not become like childhood, care- 
less of everything that is not love or joy and laughter? 

While the life stirs in us, and its fires burn fiercely, we let 
it burn unthriftily, nor set ourselves to measure the means or 
the end. For the rest, Mme. Claes understood her position 
as a wife better than any daughter of Eve. Her character 
was a piquant combination of Spanish pride with the sub- 
missiveness of the Flamande which makes the domestic hearth 
so attractive. She was dignified ; she could command respect 
by a glance which revealed a consciousness of her own value 
and her high descent, but before Claes she trembled. She 
had set her husband so on high, so near to God, that the 
thought of what he would say or think controlled her every 
3 



34 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

thought or action, and her love had come to have a tinge of 
awe which heightened it. She had made it a point of honor 
to maintain the old Flemish bourgeois traditions of the 
house ; she had prided herself on the plenty and comfort of 
her housekeeping, on the classic cleanliness of every detail ; 
everything must be of the best, every dish at dinner must be 
exquisitely cooked and served. She so ruled things in her 
household that all their outer life was in harmony with the 
life of the heart. 

They had two boys and two girls. The oldest child, a girl 
named Marguerite, was born in 1796 ; the youngest, a three- 
year-old boy, they had called Jean Balthazar. Motherly love 
was almost as strong in Mme. Claes as her affection for her 
husband. Sometimes, especially in the last years of her life, 
there was a cruel struggle between love for her husband and 
love for her children, when two claims upon her heart so 
nearly equal had become in some sort antagonistic. This was 
the domestic drama hidden away in the sleepy old house, and 
in the scene with which the story opens her tears and the 
anguish on her face were caused by a fear that she had sacri- 
ficed her children to her husband. 

In 1805 Mme. Claes' brother had died, leaving no children. 
His sister, according to Spanish law, could not inherit the 
estates, which passed with the title to the heir-at-law ; but 
the Duke had left to her about sixty thousand ducats, and the 
representative of the younger branch of the house did not 
challenge the will. No thought of interest had ever mingled 
with their love ; yet Josephine found a certain satisfaction in 
the thought that her fortune now equaled that of her hus- 
band, and was glad that in her turn she brought something to 
him from whom she had been generously content to receive 
everything. So it chanced that Balthazar's marriage, which 
prudent people had condemned, turned out to be a good 
match from a worldly point of view. 

It was a sufficiently difficult problem to know what to do 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 35 

with the money. The Maison Claes was so rich in treasures 
of art, in pictures and valuable furniture, that it was scarcely 
possible to find anything worthy of being added to such a 
collection, formed by the taste of their ancestors. The noble 
collection of pictures had been begun by one generation and 
completed by those that followed, a love of art having thus 
become a family tradition. There were fifty paintings in the 
state apartments on the first floor, and in the long gallery 
which connected those rooms with the quarter in which the 
family lived there were more than a hundred famous pictures 
by Rubens, Ruysdael, Van Dyck, Terburg, Gerard Dow, 
Teniers, Mieris, Paul Potter, Wouwerman, Rembrandt, Hob- 
bema, Cranach, and Holbein. Three centuries of patient 
research had assembled them. Examples of the French and 
Italian schools were in the minority, but nevertheless they 
were all of them genuine and of capital importance. 

Another generation had been amateurs of Oriental porce- 
lain. Some Claes, long dead and gone, had been an enthu- 
siastic collector of old furniture or of silver plate ; Balthazar's 
own father, the last survivor of the once famous Dutch society, 
had bequeathed to his son one of the finest known collections 
of tulips ; there was not a Claes but had left some trace of 
his ruling passion, and every Fleming is a born collector. 
The old house was superbly furnished with heirlooms, which 
represented vast sums of money. Without, it was as smooth 
and bare as a sea-shell, and like a shell it was decked within 
with fair colors and radiant mother-of-pearl. 

Balthazar Claes also possessed a country house in the plain 
of Orchies. So far from adopting the French plan and living 
up to his income, he never spent more than one-fourth of it, 
following old Batavian usages. This put him on the same 
footing as the wealthiest persons in Douai, for their yearly 
expenditure never exceeded twelve hundred ducats. 

In the days when the Civil Code became the law of the 
land, the wisdom of this course was abundantly evident. By 



36 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

virtue of the clause des Successions, which divides the estate 
in equal shares among the children, each child's share would 
have been small, and the treasures stored for so long in the 
house of Claes must have one day been dispersed. With his 
wife's concurrence Balthazar invested Mme. Claes' fortune in 
such a manner as to secure to each of their children a position 
similar to that in which they had been brought up, and the 
house of Claes was still kept up on the old footing. They 
bought woods which had suffered somewhat in the recent 
wars, but which in ten years' time, with due care, were likely 
to increase enormously in value. 

The society in which M. Claes moved consisted of the 
oldest families of Douai. His wife's noble qualities and char- 
acter were so thoroughly appreciated, that by a sort of tacit 
agreement the social regulations so stringently enforced in 
old-fashioned towns were somewhat relaxed in her case. 
During the winter months, which were always spent in Douai, 
she seldom left her house, and went very little into society 
society came to her. She received every Wednesday, and 
gave three large dinner parties every month. It was generally 
recognized that Mme. Claes felt more at ease in her own 
house, and she herself was little inclined to leave it ; her love 
for her husband and her children, whom she was bringing up 
very carefully, kept her at home. 

Until the year 1809 there was no change in the ways of the 
household, thus privileged to form an exception to accepted 
social rules. The life of these two beings, with its hidden 
depths of love and joy, flowed on to all appearance like other 
lives. Balthazar Claes' passion for his wife, which she had 
known how to keep, seemed, as he himself said, to have deter- 
mined his bent, and his innate perseverance was employed in 
the cultivation of happiness, as he had cultivated tulips in his 
youth ; it absolved him from the necessity for a mania tradi- 
tional in his family. But at the end of the year a change 
came over Balthazar ; it came about so imperceptibly that at 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 37 

first Mme. Claes did not think it necessary to ask the reason 
of these ominous signs. One evening he seemed preoccupied 
as he went to bed, and she conscientiously respected his 
mood. Her woman's tact and habits of submission had 
always led her to wait for Balthazar's confidence ; she felt far 
too sure of his affection to give way to jealousy. Yet though 
she knew that any inquiry would meet with a prompt answer, 
the old impressions of early life had given her an instinctive 
dread of a rebuff. Her husband's moral malady went through 
many stages, and only by slow degrees did it assume an acute 
form, and grow so intolerably violent that at last the happi- 
ness of a whole household was destroyed. However engross- 
ing Balthazar's thoughts might be, he was ready for many 
months to lay them aside to talk with her ; and there was no 
alteration in his affection, his frequent silent moods were the 
only indications of the change that was being wrought in his 
character. 

It was long before Mme. Claes gave up the hope that her 
husband would approach the subject himself and tell her about 
his mysterious preoccupations. Sometimes she thought that 
he was waiting until there should be some, practical result of 
his labors ; there is a kind of pride in so many men which 
leads them to fight their battles alone and to appear only as 
victors. In that day of triumph the light of happiness would 
shine all the more brightly for being withdrawn for a while, 
and Balthazar's love would fill up all the blank spaces in the 
page of life, blanks for which his heart was not to blame. 
Josephine knew her husband well enough to know that he 
would never forgive himself if he discovered that his Pcpita's 
happiness had been overcast for so many months. So she 
kept silence, and felt it a kind of joy to suffer through him 
and for him ; for in her passion there was a trace of the piety 
of the Spaniard, which can never distinguish between religion 
and love, and cannot understand a love without suffering. 
She waited for a return of affection, saying to herself every 



38 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

evening, "It will surely come to-morrow! "as if love were 
an absent wanderer. During all these secret troubles she was 
expecting her youngest child. There had been a horrible 
revelation of a wretched future. Everything seemed to draw 
her husband from her, and even in his love he was preoccu- 
pied. Her woman's pride, wounded for the first time, 
sounded the depths of the mysterious gulf which separated 
her from the Claes of their early married life. From that 
time things grew worse and worse. Claes, who but lately had 
been immersed in family happiness, who played with his 
children for whole hours together at romping games on the 
carpet, in the parlor, or in the garden walks, who seemed as 
if he could only live beneath the dark eyes of his Pepita, did 
not notice his wife's condition, forgot to share in the family 
life, and seemed to forget his own existence. 

The longer Mme. Claes delayed to ask the reason of his 
preoccupation, the more her courage failed her. Her blood 
seemed to boil at the thought, and her voice died in her 
throat. At last she felt convinced that her husband had 
ceased to care for her, and grew seriously alarmed. This 
dread grew upon her ; she brooded over it till her hours were 
filled with unhappy musings and feverish excitement, and she 
began to despair. She justified Balthazar at her own expense, 
telling herself that she was old and ugly. Then it seemed 
to her that she saw a generous motive, humiliating though it 
might be to her pride, in his absorption in his work ; it was a 
kind of negative faithfulness; she determined to give him 
back his independence by bringing about a secret divorce, that 
clue to the apparent happiness of not a few households. Yet 
before renouncing their old life, she made an effort to read 
her husband's heart and found it shut. 

She saw how Balthazar, by slow degrees, became indifferent 
to everything that had once been dear to him ; he cared no 
longer for his tulips in flower ; he seemed to have forgotten the 
very existence of his children. Clearly this passion was one 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 39 

of those that lie without the pale of the heart's affections, but 
which no less, as women think, dry up the springs of affec- 
tion. Love slept, but had not fled. This was some comfort, 
though the trouble itself remained as heretofore ; and hope, 
the explanation of all situations like these, prolonged the 
crisis. 

Sometimes, just as the poor wife's despair had grown to 
such a pitch that she had gathered courage to question her 
husband, there would be a brief interval of happiness, and 
Balthazar would make it clear to her that though he might be 
in the clutches of some diabolical thought, it was a thought 
which still permitted him to be himself again at times. In 
these brief moments, when her sky grew brighter, she was too 
eager to enjoy the gleam of happiness, too afraid to lose any 
of it by her importunity, to ask for an explanation ; and just 
as she nerved herself to speak, he would escape her. While 
the words were on her lips, Balthazar would suddenly leave 
her, or he would fall into deep musings from which nothing 
could arouse him. 

Before very long there set in a reaction of the mental on the 
physical existence. The havoc thus wrought was scarcely 
visible at first, save to the eyes of a loving woman, who 
watched for a clue to her husband's inmost thoughts in their 
slightest manifestations. She could often scarcely keep back 
the tears as she saw him fling himself down after dinner into 
an easy-chair by the fireside, and sit there with his eyes fixed 
on one of the dark panels, gloomy, abstracted, utterly heed- 
less of the dead silence about him. She watched, too, with 
an aching heart the gradual changes for the worse in the face 
that love had made sublime for her ; it seemed as if the life of 
the soul was day by day withdrawing itself and leaving an 
expressionless mask. At times his eyes grew glassy, as if the 
faculty of sight in them had been converted to a power of 
inner vision. After the children had gone to bed, after long 
silent hours full of painful and solitary brooding, poor Pepita 



40 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

would venture to ask, " Do you feel ill, dear? " Sometimes 
Balthazar would not answer at all, or he came to himself with 
a start like a man suddenly awakened from sleep, and said, 
"No," in harsh, sepulchral tones, which fell heavily on his 
wife's quivering heart. 

Josephine tried at first to keep this anomalous state of 
things in their household a secret from the outer world, but 
this proved to be impossible. Balthazar's behavior was known 
and discussed in every coterie, in every salon ; and, as fre- 
quently happens in little towns, certain circles were better 
informed as to the Claes' affairs than Mme. Claes herself. 
Several of her friends broke through the silence prescribed by 
politeness, and showed so much solicitude on her account, 
that she hastened to explain her husband's singular conduct. 

" M. Balthazar," she said, " was engaged on a great work. 
It took up all his time and energies ; but if it succeeded, it 
would make him famous, and his native town would have 
reason to be proud of him." 

Patriotic enthusiasm runs high in Douai ; you would be 
hard put to it to find a town more eager for distinction ; the 
prospect of glory was gratifying to local vanity ; there was a 
reaction in people's minds, and M. Claes' proceedings were 
viewed more respectfully. 

His wife's guesses were not so very far from the truth. 
Workmen had been employed for some time past in the garret 
above the state apartments, whither Balthazar went every 
morning. He spent more and more of his time up there now, 
until at last he was in the garret all day long, and his wife and 
the rest of the family fell in with the new ways by degrees. 

But Mme. Claes had yet to learn, to her unspeakable an- 
guish, that her husband was always buying scientific apparatus 
in Paris; that books, machines, and costly materials of all 
kinds were being sent to him ; and that he was bent on dis- 
covering the philosopher's stone. All this she must hear 
through the officious kindness of friends who were surprised 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 41 

to find her in ignorance of her husband's doings. It was a 
bitter humiliation. These friends proceeded to say that she 
ought to think of her children and of her own future, and that 
she would be doing very wrong if she did not use her influ- 
ence with her husband to turn him from the paths of error 
into which he had strayed. Mme. Claes might summon a 
great lady's insolence to her aid/ and silence this absurd talk ; 
but a sudden terror seized her in spite of her confident tone, 
and she determined that she would no longer efface herself. 
She would choose her ground, and speak to her husband on 
an equal footing ; and so, feeling less tremulous, she ventured 
to ask Balthazar for the cause of the change in him and the 
reason of his continual seclusion. The Fleming frowned as 
he answered her 

" My dear, you would not understand it in the least." 
One day Josephine had begged hard to know this secret, 
playfully grumbling that she who shared his life might not 
share all his thoughts. 

"If you want to know about it so much," Balthazar an- 
swered, seeing his wife on her knees, " I will tell you. I am 
studying chemistry," he said, stroking her black hair, "and 
I am the happiest man in the world." 

Two years after the winter in which M. Claes began his 
experiments, the house was no longer the same. Perhaps the 
chemist's abstracted ways had given offence; perhaps his 
acquaintances felt themselves to be in the way; or it may 
have been that the anxieties of which Mme. Claes never spoke 
had altered her, and people found her less charming than 
heretofore. Whatever the cause might be, she only received 
visits from her most intimate friends, and Balthazar went no- 
where. He shut himself up in his laboratory all day, and 
sometimes all night ; his family never saw him except at 
dinner. After the second year the winter and summer were 
alike spent in Douai ; his wife had no desire to leave Balthazar 
and go alone to their country house. 



42 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

Balthazar would take long solitary walks, sometimes only 
returning on the following day. Those were long nights of 
sickening anxiety for his wife. In Douai, as in most fortified 
towns, the gates of the city were shut at a fixed hour ; when 
search and inquiry within the walls had been made in vain, 
poor Mme. Claes had not even the support of expectation, 
half-hope, half-anguish, and must wait till morning as best 
she might. And in the morning Balthazar would return as if 
nothing had happened. He had simply forgotton, in his ab- 
straction, the hour at which the gates were closed, and had no 
suspicion of the torture which he had inflicted on his family. 
The joy and relief were nearly as perilous for Mme. Claes as 
terror and suspense had been. She made no comment ; she 
never spoke to him of his wanderings. Once she had begun 
to ask a question, and she had not forgotten the tone of 
amazement in which he answered 

" Why, cannot one take a walk? " 

The passions cannot be deceived. Mme. Claes' own mis- 
givings bore witness to the truth of the reports which she had 
at first so lightly contradicted. She had suffered so much from 
polite conventional sympathy in her youth that she had no 
wish to experience it a second time. She therefore immured 
herself more closely than ever in her home, her acquaintances 
dropped off, and her few remaining friends soon followed 
suit. This materially added to her discomfiture, and gave her 
additional annoyance and worriment. 

Balthazar's slovenly attire was by no means the least of her 
troubles. There is always something degrading in neglect of 
this kind for a man who belongs to the upper classes ; and she 
felt it all the more keenly, because she had been used to a 
Flemish refinement of cleanliness. With the help of Lemul- 
quinier, her husband's valet, Josephine tried for a while to 
repair the havoc wrought by these pursuits ; but the new gar- 
ments with which, without Claes' knowledge, she replaced the 
torn, burnt, and stained clothing, were little better than rags 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 43 

by the end of the day, and she gave up the attempt in 

despair. 

After fifteen years of happiness, it seemed to the wife, who 
had never known a pang of jealousy, that she counted for 
nothing in the heart where she had reigned but lately, and the 
Spaniard in her nature awoke. Science was her rival. Science 
had won her husband's heart from her, and love renewed its 
strength in the fires of jealousy that consumed her heart. 
But what could she do? What resistance could she make 
against this slowly-growing tyrannous power that never relaxed 
its hold this invisible rival who could not be slain? A 
woman's power is limited by nature ; how can she engage in 
a struggle with an idea, with the infinite delights of thought 
and charms that are always renewed ? What could she attempt 
in the face of the coquetries of ideas which take new forms 
and grow fairer amid difficulties, which beckon to the seeker, 
and lure him on so far from the world that he grows forgetful 
of all things else, and human love and human ties are as 
nothing to him? 

A day came at last when, in spite of strict orders from Bal- 
thazar, his wife determined that at least in bodily presence she 
would be near him ; she also would live in the garret where he 
had shut himself up, and meet her rival there on her own ground 
and at close quarters ; she would be with her husband during 
the long hours which he lavished on the terrible mistress who 
had won his heart from her. She meant to steal into the 
mysterious workshop, and to earn the right of remaining 
there. But as she dreaded an explosion of wrath, and feared 
a witness of the scene, she waited for a day when her husband 
should be alone, before making her effort to share with Lemul- 
quinier the right of entry into the laboratory. For some 
time she had watched the man's comings and goings, and al- 
most hated him. Was it not intolerable that the servant 
should know all that she longed to learn, all that her husband 
hid from her, and that she did not dare to ask? It seemed to 



44 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

her that Lemulquinier was more privileged, and stood higher 
in her husband's estimation than she, his own wife. 

So she went to the garret, trembling, yet almost happy, and 
for the first time in her life was made to feel Balthazar's anger. 
Scarcely had she opened the door, when he rushed forward 
and seized her, and pushed her out on to the staircase so 
roughly that she narrowly escaped a headlong fall. 

"God be praised ! You are still alive ! " cried Balthazar, 
as he helped her to rise. 

The splinters of a shattered glass mask fell about Mme. 
Claes ; she looked up and saw her husband's face, white, hag- 
gard, and terrified. 

" Dear, I told you not to come here," he gasped, sinking 
down on a step as if all his strength had left him. "The 
saints have saved your life. I wonder how it chanced that my 
eyes were fixed on the door just then. We were all but 
killed ! " 

" I should have been very happy to die so," she said. 

"My experiment is utterly ruined," Balthazar went on. 
" I could not forgive any one else for causing me such a 
grievous disappointment ; it is too painful. In another mo- 
ment I should perhaps have decomposed nitrogen ! There, 

go back to your own affairs," and Balthazar returned to his 
laboratory. 

"I should perhaps have decomposed nitrogen !" the poor 
wife said to herself, as she went back to her own room ; and 
once there, she burst into tears. 

The phrase conveyed no meaning to her. Men, whose 
education gives them a certain readiness to deal with new 
ideas, do not know how painful it is to a woman to lack the 
power to understand the thoughts of the man she loves. 
These divine creatures are more indulgent than we are ; they 
do not tell us when they fail to find response to the language 
of their souls ; they shrink from making us feel the superiority 
of their sentiments, dissemble their pain joyfully, and are 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 45 

silent about the pleasures that we do not enter into. But they 
are more ambitious in love than we are ; they must do more 
than wed a man's heart, they must share his thoughts as well. 
Ignorance of her husband's scientific pursuits gave Mme. 
Claes a more intolerable heartache than a rival's beauty could 
have caused. The woman who loves the most is at least con- 
scious of this advantage over her rival ; but such neglect as 
this left her face to face with her utter helplessness ; it was a 
humiliating indifference to all the affections that help us to 
live. 

Josephine loved, but she did not know ; and her want of 
knowledge separated her from her husband. But besides this 
and beyond this, there lay a last extremity of torture ; he was 
often between life and death, it seemed ; under the same roof, 
and yet far from her, he was risking his life without her 
knowledge, in dangers which she might not share. It was like 
hell a prison for the soul from which there was no way of 
escape, where there was no hope left. Mme. Claes deter- 
mined that at any rate she would learn in what the attractions 
of this science consisted, and privately set herself to read 
works on chemistry. Then the house became like a convent. 

The " Maison Claes" had passed through all these succes- 
sive changes, and by the time that this story commences was 
almost "dead to the world." 

The crisis grew more complicated. Like all impassioned 
natures, Mme. Claes never thought of herself; and those who 
know love, know that where affection is concerned money is 
of small moment, and interest and affection are almost incom- 
patible. Yet it was not without a cruel pang that Josephine 
learned that there was a mortgage of three hundred thousand 
francs on her husband's estates. There were documents 
which proved this beyond a doubt, and gave occasion for 
gossip and dismayed conjecture in the town. Mme. Claes, 
justly alarmed, felt compelled, proud though she was, to make 
inquiries of her husband's notary, to confide her anxieties to 



46 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

him, or to enable him to guess them ; and was forced to hear 
from the lips of the man of business the humiliating inquiry, 
"Then has not M. Claes as yet said anything to you about 
it?" 

Luckily, Balthazar's notary was almost a relation. M. 
Claes' grandfather had married one of the Pierquins of Ant- 
werp, of the same family as the Pierquins of Douai ; and ever 
since the marriage the latter branch, though scarcely ac- 
quainted with the Claes, had looked upon them as cousins. 
M. Pierquin, a young man of six-and-twenty, had just suc- 
ceeded to his father's position; he alone, in his quality of 
notary and kinsman, had the right of entry to the house. 
Mme. Balthazar Claes had lived for many months in such 
complete seclusion that she was obliged to go to him for 
information of a disaster which was already known to every 
one in Douai. 

Pierquin told her that in all probability large sums were 
owing to the firm which supplied her husband with chemicals. 
This firm, after making inquiries, had executed all M. Claes' 
orders without hesitation, and let him have unlimited credit. 
Mme. Claes commissioned Pierquin to ask them for an account 
of the goods supplied to her husband. Two months later, MM. 
Protez and Chiffreville, manfacturing chemists, sent in a state- 
ment by which it appeared that a hundred thousand francs 
were owing to them. 

Mme. Claes and Pierquin studied the document with amaze- 
ment that increased with each fresh item. Among enigmatical 
entries, commercial expressions, and undecipherable scientific 
hieroglyphs, it gave them a shock to find mention of diamonds 
and precious metals, albeit in small quantities, and of myste- 
rious substances, apparently so difficult to procure or to pro- 
duce that they were enormously valuable. The vast number 
of different items, the cost of carriage and of packing valuable 
scientific instruments and delicately adjusted machinery for 
transit, the expense of all the apparatus, together with the 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 47 

fact that many of the chemical compounds had been specially 
prepared by M. Claes' directions, accounted sufficiently for 
the startling amount of the total. 

In the interests of his cousin, the notary made inquiries 
concerning MM. Protez and Chiffreville, and the accounts 
which he received of them convinced him that they had been 
perfectly honest in their dealings with M. Claes ; indeed, they 
had been more than honest, they had gone out of their way 
to keep him informed of the discoveries of Parisian chemists 
in order to save him expense. 

Mme. Claes entreated Pierquin to keep the singular nature 
of these transactions a secret. If they were known in the 
town, all Douai would say at once that her husband was mad. 
But Pierquin told her that this was impossible ; that he had 
obtained all possible delay already ; and that as the bills for 
such large amounts had been formally noted, the secret was 
not in his keeping. He laid bare the whole extent of the 
wound, telling his cousin that if she could not contrive to 
prevent her husband from squandering his money in this 
reckless way, the family estates would be mortgaged up to 
their value in less than six months. As to making any effort 
himself, he added that he, Pierquin, had spoken to his cousin 
on the subject, with due deference, more than once, and that 
it had been utterly useless. Balthazar had answered once for 
all that in all his researches his object was to make a fortune 
and a famous name for his family. So in addition to the 
anguish which had clutched at Josephine's heart for the past 
two years a cumulative torture, in which every sad or happy 
memory of the past added to the pain of the present she 
was to know a horrible unceasing dread of worse to follow, 
of an appalling future. 

A woman's presentiments are often marvelously correct. 
How is it that women fear so far oftener than they hope in all 
matters relating to this present life. Why do they reserve all 
their faith for religious beliefs in a future world ? How is it 



48 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

that they are so quick to discern coming trouble or any turn- 
ing-point in our career? Perhaps the very closeness of the 
tie that binds a woman to the man she loves makes her an 
admirable judge of his capacity and with the instinct of love 
she estimates his faculties and knows his tastes, his passions, 
his faults, and good qualities. She is always studying these 
forces of man's destiny, and with the intimate knowledge of 
the causes comes the fatal gift of foreseeing their effects under 
all conceivable conditions. Women derive their insight into 
the future from their clear-sightedness in such things as they 
see in the present, and the accuracy of their forecasts is due 
to the perfection of their nervous organization, which enables 
them to detect and interpret the slightest sign of thought or 
feeling. They feel the great storms that shake another soul, 
and every fibre in them vibrates in harmony. They feel or 
they see. And Mme. Claes, though estranged from her hus- 
band for two years, felt that the loss of their fortune was im- 
pending. 

In Balthazar's passionate persistence she had seen the reflec- 
tion of his fiery enthusiasm. If it were true that he was trying 
to discover the secret of making gold, he would certainly 
fling his last morsel of bread into the crucible with perfect 
indifference; but what was he seeking to discover? 

So far she had loved husband and children without attempt- 
ing to distinguish the claims of either upon her heart. Bal- 
thazar had loved the children as she did ; the children had 
never come between them. Now, all at once she discovered 
that she was at times more a mother than a wife, as heretofore 
she had been a wife rather than a mother. Yet she felt that 
she was ready even yet to sacrifice herself, her fortune, and 
her children to the welfare of the man who had loved and 
chosen and adored her, the man for whom she was still the 
only woman in the world ; and then came remorse that she 
should love her children so little, and despair at being 
placed between two hideous alternatives. Her heart suffered 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 49 

as a wife, as a mother she suffered in her children, and as a 
Christian she suffered for it all. She said nothing of the 
terrible conflict in her soul. After all, her husband was the 
sole arbiter of their fate ; he was the master who must shape 
their destinies ; he was accountable to God and to none other. 
How could she reproach him with putting her fortune to such 
uses, after the disinterestedness which had been so amply 
proved during the first ten years of their married life ? Was 
she a judge of his designs ? And yet her conscience asserted 
what she knew to be in keeping with all laws written and 
unwritten, that parents possess their fortune not for themselves, 
but for their children, and have no right to alienate the worldly 
wealth which they hold in trust for them. 

Rather than take it upon herself to solve these intricate 
problems, she had chosen to shut her eyes to them ; like a 
man on the brink of a precipice, who will not look into the 
yawning depths into which he knows that he must sooner or 
later fall. 

For the past six months her husband had allowed her noth- 
ing for housekeeping expenses. The magnificent diamonds 
which her brother had given to her on the day of her marriage 
had been secretly sold in Paris, and she had put the whole 
household on the most economical footing. She had dis- 
missed the children's governess, and even little Jean's nurse. 
Formerly the luxury of a carriage had been quite unknown 
among the Flemish burghers, who lived so simply and held 
their heads so high. So there had been no provision in the 
Maison Claes itself for this modern innovation, and Balthazar 
had been obliged to have his stables and coach-house on the 
opposite side of the street. Since he had been absorbed in 
chemistry he had ceased to superintend that part of the menage, 
essentially a man's province, and Mme. Claes put down the 
carriage. She was so much of a recluse that the expense was 
as useless as it was heavy ; and this would have been reason 
sufficient to give for her retrenchments, but she did not 
4 



50 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE, 

attempt to give color to them by any pretexts. Hitherto facts 
had given the lie to her words, and now silence became her 
best. 

Such changes as these, moreover, were almost inexcusable 
in Holland, where any one who lives up to his income is 
looked on as a madman. Only as her oldest girl, Marguerite, 
was now nearly sixteen years old, Josephine would wish her 
to make a great match, it was thought, and to establish her in 
the world in a manner befitting the daughter of the house of 
Claes, connected as it was with the Molinas, the Van Ostrom- 
Temnincks, and the Casa-Reals. The money realized by the 
sale of the diamonds had been exhausted some few days 
before the opening scene of this story. On that very after- 
noon, as Mme. Claes had met Pierquin on her way to vespers 
with her children, he had turned and walked with them as far 
as the Church of Saint Pierre, talking confidentially the while. 

"It would be a breach of the friendship which attaches me 
to your family," he said, "if I were to attempt to conceal 
from you, cousin, the risks you are running. I must implore 
you to set them before your husband. Who else has influence 
sufficient to arrest him on the brink of the precipice ? Your 
estates are so heavily mortgaged that they will scarcely pay 
interest on the sums borrowed. At this moment you have no 
income whatever. If you once cut down the woods, your 
last hope of salvation will be gone. Cousin Balthazar owes 
thirty thousand francs to Protez and Chiffreville in Paris ; 
how will you pay them ? How are you going to live? And 
what will become of you if Claes keeps on buying acids and 
alkalis, and glassware, and voltaic batteries, and such like 
gimcracks ? All your fortune has flown off in gas and smuts ; 
you have nothing but the house and the furniture left. A 
couple of days ago there was some talk of mortgaging the 
house itself, and what do you think Claes said ? ' The 
devil !' 'Tis the first sign of sense he has shown these three 
years." 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 51 

Mme. Claes in her distress clutched Pierquin's arm. 
"Keep our secret!" she entreated, raising her eyes to 
heaven. 

The words had fallen like a thunderbolt. She sat quietly 
on her chair among her children, so overcome that she could 
not pray. Her prayer book lay open on her knee, but she 
never turned a leaf ; her painful thoughts were as all-absorb- 
ing as her husband's musings. The sounds of the organ fell 
on her ears, but Spanish pride and Flemish integrity sent 
louder echoes through her soul. The ruin of her children 
was complete ! She could no longer hesitate between their 
claims and their father's honor. The immediate prospect of 
a collision with Claes appalled her ; he was so great in her 
eyes, so much above her, that the bare idea of his anger was 
scarcely less fearful than the thought of the wrath of God. 
She could no longer be so devoutly submissive, a change had 
come over her life. For her children's sake she must thwart 
the wishes of the husband whom she idolized. 

His thoughts soared among the far-off heights of science, 
but she must bring him down to the problems of every-day 
existence ; must break in upon his dreams of a fair future, and 
confront him with the present in its most prosaic aspect, with 
practical details revolting to artists and great men. For his 
wife, Balthazar Claes was a giant intellect, a man whose great- 
ness the world would one day recognize ; he could only have 
forgotten her for the most splendid hopes ; and then he was so 
able, so wise and far-seeing, she had heard him speak so well 
on so many subjects, that she felt no doubt that he spoke the 
truth when he said that his researches were to bring fame and 
a fortune to them all. His love for his wife and children was 
not only great, it was boundless ; how could such love come 
to an end ? Doubtless it was stronger and deeper than ever, 
it was only the form that was changed ; and she who was so 
nobly disinterested, so generous and sensitive, must con- 
tinually sound the word " money " in the great man's ears ; 



52 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

must make him see poverty in its ugliest shape, and the rattle 
of coin and cries of distress must break in on the sweet voices 
that sang of fame. 

And suppose that Balthazar's affection for her should grow 
less? Ah ! if she had had no children, how bravely and gladly 
she would have faced the change he had wrought in her des- 
tiny ! Women who have been brought up amid wealthy sur- 
roundings soon feel the emptiness of the life that luxury may 
disguise, but cannot fill ; it palls on them, but their hearts are 
not seared ; and when once they have discovered for them- 
selves the happiness that lies in a constant interchange of 
sincere feeling and thought, when they are certain of being 
loved, they do not shrink from a narrow monotonous existence, 
if only that existence is the one best suited to the being who 
loves them. All their own ideas and pleasures are subordinated 
to the lightest demands of that life without their own ; and 
the future holds but one dread for them the dread of separa- 
tion. 

At this moment Pepita felt that her children stood between 
her and her real life, as science had separated Balthazar Claes 
from her. When she returned from vespers she flung herself 
down in her low chair, dismissed the children with a caution 
to make no noise, and sent to ask her husband to come to 
speak with her ; but in spite of the insistence of the old man- 
servant Lemulquinier, Balthazar had not stirred from his labo- 
ratory. Mme. Claes had time to think over her position, and 
had fallen into deep musings, forgetful of the hour and the 
day. The thought that they owed thirty thousand francs 
which they could not pay roused painful memories ; all the 
troubles of the past started up to meet the troubles of the 
present and the future. She was overwhelmed by the prob- 
lem, the burden grew too heavy for her, and she gave way to 
tears. 

When Balthazar came at last, he looked more abstracted, 
more formidable, more distraught than she had ever seen him; 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 53 

and when he gave her no answer, she sat for a while like one 
fascinated by the vacant unseeing gaze; the remorseless 
thoughts that had wrung drops of sweat from his brow 
seemed to exert a spell over her also. With the first shock 
came the wish that she might die. But the scientific inquiry 
made in those absent tones roused her courage just as her 
heart began to fail her ; she would grapple with this hideous 
and mysterious power which had robbed her of her lover, her 
children of their father, and the' family of their wealth, had 
overclouded all their happiness, and jeopardized the fair name 
of the house of Claes. Yet she could not help trembling, 
shudder after shudder ran through her ; was it not the most 
solemn moment of her life a moment that held all her future 
as it was the outcome of all her past ? 

And at this point, weak-minded people, timid souls, or those 
who, sensitive by nature, are prone to exaggerate little trials 
of life, men who, in spite of themselves, feel a nervous 
tremor when they stand before the arbiters of their fate, may 
readily imagine the thoughts that crowded up in her mind. 
Her brain reeled, and her heart grew heavy with pent-up 
emotion, as she saw her husband go slowly towards the gar- 
den door. Few women have not known the misery of such 
inward debates as hers, so that even those whose hearts have 
not throbbed violently over a confession of extravagance, or 
of debts to their dressmaker, will have some faint idea of how 
terribly the pulse beats when life is at stake. A pretty woman 
can fling herself at her husband's feet, the graceful attitudes of 
her sorrow can plead for her, but Mme. Claes was painfully 
conscious of her deformity, and this added to her fears. 
When she saw Balthazar about to leave her, her first impulse 
had been to spring to his side, but a cruel thought restrained 
her. How could she rise and stand before him ? She would 
appear ridiculous in the eyes of a man who had lost the old 
illusions of love, and now would see her as she was. Rather 
than lose one tittle of her power, Josephine would have lost 



54 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

fortune and children. She would avoid all possible evil influ- 
ence at this crisis. 

"Balthazar! " 

He started at the sound of her voice and coughed. Then, 
without paying any attention to his wife, he turned in the 
direction of one of the small square spittoons which are placed 
at intervals along the wainscot in all Dutch and Flemish 
houses ; the force of old habit and association was so strong in 
him that the man, who was hardly conscious of the existence 
of human beings, was always careful of the furniture. This 
curious trait was a source of intolerable pain to poor 
Josephine, who could not understand it ; at this moment she 
lost command over herself, and her agony of mind drew from 
her a sharp cry of suffering, an exclamation in which all her 
wounded feelings found expression. 

" Monsieur ! I am speaking to you ! " 

"What does that signify?" answered Balthazar, turning 
round abruptly, and giving his wife a quick glance. The 
hasty words fell like a thunderbolt. 

" Forgive me, dear " she said, with a white face. She 
tried to rise to her feet, and held out her hand to him, but 
sank back again exhausted. 

" This is killing me ! " she said, in a voice broken by sobs. 

The sight of tears brought a revulsion in Balthazar, as in 
most absent-minded people ; it was as if a sudden light had 
been thrown for him on the mystery of this crisis. He took 
up Mme. Claes at once in his arms, opened a door which led 
into the little ante-chamber, and sprang up the staircase so 
hastily that his wife's dress caught on one of the carved 
dragon's heads of the balusters ; there was a sharp sound, and 
a whole breadth was torn away. He kicked open the door of 
a little room into which their apartments opened, and found 
that the door of his wife's room was locked. He set Josephine 
gently down in an armchair, saying to himself, " Good 
heavens ! where is the key ? ' ' 



HE TOOK UP MME. CLAES AT ONCE IN HIS ARMS 
SPRANG UP THE STAIRCASE. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 55 

"Thank you, dear," said Mme. Claes, as she opened her 
eyes. "It is a long while since I have felt so near to your 
heart." 

"Great heavens!" cried Claes. "Where is the key? 
There are the servants " 

Josephine signed to him to take the key which hung sus- 
pended from a riband at her side. Balthazar opened the door 
and hastily laid his wife on the sofa ; then he went out to bid 
the startled servants remain downstairs, ordered them to serve 
dinner at once, and hurried back to his wife. 

" What is it, dear heart ? " he asked, seating himself beside 
her. He took her hand and kissed it. 

"It is nothing," she said; " the pain is over now, only I 
wish that I had God's power, and could pour all the gold 
in the world at your feet." 

" Why gold ? " he asked, as he drew his wife to him, held 
her tightly in his arms, and kissed her again on the forehead. 
" Dearest love, do you not give me the greatest of all wealth, 
loving me as you do ? " 

" Oh ! Balthazar, why should you not put an end to all 
this wretchedness, as your voice just now dispelled the trouble 
in my heart? You are not changed at all ; I see that now," 
she replied. 

" Wretchedness ? What do you mean, dearest ? " 

" We are ruined, dear." 

"Ruined?" he echoed. He began to smile, and fondly 
stroked the hand which lay in his. When he spoke again 
there was an unaccustomed tenderness in his voice. 

"To-morrow, dearest, we may find ourselves possessed of 
inexhaustible wealth. Yesterday, while trying to discover far 
greater secrets, I think I found out how to crystallize carbon, 

the substance of the diamond. Oh ! dear wife, in a few 

day's time, you will forgive me for my wandering wits ; for 
they are apt to wander at times, it seems. I spoke hastily 
just now, did I not ? But you will make allowances for me, 



56 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

the thought of you is always present with me, and ray work is 
all for you, for us ' 

" That is enough," she said ; " we will say no more now, 
dear. This evening we will talk over it all. My trouble 
seemed more than I could bear, and now joy is almost too 
much for me." 

She had not thought to see the old tender expression in his 
face, to hear such gentle tones again in his voice, to recover 
all that she thought she had lost. 

" Certainly," he said. " Let us talk it over this evening. 
If I should grow absorbed in something else, remind me of 
my promise. I should like to forget my calculations this 
evening, and to surround myself with family happiness, with 
the pleasures of the heart, for I need them, Pepita, I am long- 
ing for them." 

"And will you tell me what you are trying to discover, 
Balthazar?" 

"Why, you would not understand it all if I did, poor 
little one." 

" That is what you think ? But for these four months past 
I have been reading about chemistry, dear, so that I could 
talk about it with you. I have read Fourcroy, Lavoisier, 
Chaptal, Nollet, Rouelle, Berthollet, Gay-Lussac, Spallanzani, 
Leuwenhoek, Galvani, Volta- all the books, in fact, about this 
science that you adore. Come, you can tell me your secrets 
now." 

"Oh ! you are an angel! " cried Balthazar, falling on his 
knees beside his wife, and shedding tears that made her 
tremble. " We shall understand each other in everything ! " 

"Ah ! " she said. " I would fling myself into your furnace 
fire to hear such words from you, to see you as you are now." 

She heard her daughter's footsteps in the next room, and 
sprang hastily to the door. 

" What is it, Marguerite ? " she asked of her eldest girl. 

"M. Pierquin is here, mother dear. You forgot to give 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 57 

out the table-linen this morning, and if he stays to dinner 



Mme. Claes drew a bunch of small keys from her pocket 
and gave them to her daughter, indicating as she did so the 
cupboards of foreign woods which lined the ante-chamber. 

"Take it from the Graindorge linen," she said, " on the 
right-hand side." 

" As this dear Balthazar of mine is to come back to me 
to-day, I should like to have him all complete," she said, 
going back to the room with mischievous sweetness in her 
eyes. " Now, dear, go to your room, and do me a favor 
dress for dinner, as Pierquin is here. Just change those ragged 
clothes of yours. Only look at the stains ! And is it muri- 
atic or sulphuric acid which has burned those holes with the 
yellow edges ? Go and freshen yourself up a little ; as soon 
as I have changed my dress, I will send Mulquinier to you." 

Balthazar tried to pass into his room by the door which 
opened into it, forgetting that it was locked on the other side. 
He was obliged to go out through the ante-chamber. 

" Marguerite," called Mme. Claes, " leave the linen on the 
armchair there, and come and help me to dress ; I would 
rather not have Martha." 

Balthazar had laid his hand on Marguerite's shoulder, and 
turned her towards him, saying merrily 

" Good evening, little one ! You are very charming to-day 
in that muslin frock and rose-colored sash." 

He grasped Marguerite's hand in his, and kissed her fore- 
head. 

"Mamma!" crid the girl, as she went into her mother's 
room, " papa kissed me just now, and he looked so pleased 
and happy ! " 

" Your father is a very great man, dear child ; he has been 
working for three years that his family may be rich and illus- 
trious, and now he feels sure that he has reached the end of 
his ambitions. To day should be a great day for us all." 



58 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

" We shall not be alone in our joy, mamma dear; all the 

servants were sorry, too, to see him look so gloomy Oh ! 

not that sash, it is so limp and faded." 

"Very well, but we must be quick. I must go down and 
speak to Pierquin. Where is he ? " 

" In the parlor; he is playing with Jean." 

" Where are Gabriel and Felicie ? " 

" I hear their voices out in the garden." 

" Well, then, just run away downstairs and see after them, 
or they will pick the tulips ; your father has not even seen 
the tulips all this year, perhaps he would like to go out and 
look at them after dinner. And tell Mulquinier to take 
everything your father wants up to his room." 

When Marguerite had left her, Mme. Claes went to the 
window and looked out at her children playing below in the 
garden. They were absorbed in watching one of those gleam- 
ing insects with green, gold-bespangled wings that are popu- 
larly called " diamond beetles." 

" Be good, my darlings," she said, throwing up the window 
sash to let the fresh air into the room. Then she tapped 
gently on the door that opened into her husband's apartment, 
to make sure that he was not lost once more in a waking 
dream. He opened it, and when she saw that he was dressing, 
she said merrily 

"You will not leave me to entertain Pierquin all by myself 
for long, will you? You will come down as soon as you 
can?" and she tripped away downstairs so lightly that a 
stranger hearing her footsteps would not have thought that 
she was lame. Half-way down the staircase she met Mul- 
quinier. 

" When monsieur carried madame upstairs," said the man, 
"her dress was torn by one of the balusters; not that the 
scrap of stuff matters at all, but the dragon's head is broken, 
and I do not know who is to mend it. It quite spoils the 
staircase ; such a handsome piece of carving as it was too !" 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 59 

"Pshaw ! Mulquinier, do not have it mended; it is not a 
misfortune." 

" Not a misfortune? " said Mulquinier to himself. " How 
is that ? What has happened ? Can the master have discov- 
ered the Absolute ? " 

" Good-day, M. Pierquin," said Mme. Claes, as she opened 
the parlor door. 

The notary hastened to offer his arm to his cousin, but she 
never took any arm but her husband's, and thanked him by a 
smile, as she said, " Perhaps you have come for the thirty 
thousand francs ? ' ' 

"Yes, madame. When I reached home I found a memo- 
randum from MM. Protez and Chiffreville, who have drawn 
six bills, each for five thousand francs, on M. Claes." 

"Very well," she answered; "say nothing to-day about 
it to Balthazar. Stay and dine with us; and if he should 
happen to ask why you have called, please invent some 
plausible excuse. Let me have the letter; I will tell him 
about this affair myself. It will be all right," she went on, 
seeing the notary's astonishment ; " in a very few months my 
husband will probably pay back all the money which he has 
borrowed." 

The last phrase was spoken in a low voice. The notary 
meanwhile watched Mile. Claes, who was coming from the 
garden, followed by Gabriel and Felicie. 

" I have never seen Mile. Marguerite look so charming," 
he said. 

Mme. Claes, sitting in her low chair, with little Jean on her 
knees, raised her face and looked from her daughter to the 
notary with seeming carelessness. 

Pierquin was neither short nor tall, stout nor thin ; he was 
good-looking in a commonplace way, with a discontented 
rather than a melancholy expression ; it was not a thoughtful 
face in spite of its vague dreaminess. He had the name of being 



60 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

a misanthrope, but he had an excellent appetite, and was too 
anxious to get on in the world to stand very far aloof from 
it. He had a trick of gazing into space, an attitude of indif- 
ference, a carefully-cultivated talent for silence, which seemed 
to indicate profound depths of character; but which, as a 
matter of fact, served to conceal the shallowness and insig- 
nificance of a notary whose whole mind was entirely absorbed 
by material interests. He was still sufficiently young to be 
emulous and ambitious ; the prospect of marrying into the 
Claes family would have been quite enough to call forth all 
his zeal, even if he had had no ulterior motive in the shape of 
avarice, but he was not prepared to act a generous part until 
he knew his position exactly. When Claes seemed to be in a 
fair way to ruin himself, the notary grew stiff, curt, and un- 
compromising as an ordinary man of business ; but as soon 
as he suspected that something after all might come of his 
cousin's work, he at once became affectionate, accommodating, 
almost officious ; and yet he never sounded his own motives 
for these naive changes of manner. Sometimes he looked on 
Marguerite as an infanta, a princess, to whose hand a poor 
notary dared not aspire ; sometimes she was only a penniless 
girl, who might think herself lucky if Pierquin condescended 
to make her his wife. He was a thorough provincial and a 
Fleming; there was no harm in him; but his transparent 
selfishness neutralized his better qualities, as his personal 
appearance was spoiled by his absurd affectations. 

As Mme. Claes looked at the notary she remembered the 
curt way in which he had spoken that day in the porch of St. 
Peter's Church, and noticed the change in his manner wrought 
by this evening's conversation. She read the thoughts in the 
depths of his heart, and gave a keen glance at her daughter, 
but evidently there was no thought of her cousin in the girl's 
mind. A few minutes were spent in discussing town talk, 
and then the master of the house came down from his room. 
His wife had heard him moving about in the room above with 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 61 

indescribable pleasure, his step was so quick and light that 
she pictured Claes grown youthful again, and awaited his 
coming with such eagerness that in spite of herself a quiver 
of excitement thrilled her as he came down the staircase. 

A moment later Balthazar entered, dressed in a costume of 
that day. His high boots, reaching almost to the knee, were 
carefully polished, the tops were turned down, leaving white 
silk stockings visible. He wore blue kerseymere breeches, 
fastened with gold buttons, a white-flowered waistcoat, and a 
blue dress-coat. He had shaved himself and combed and 
perfumed his hair, his nails had been pared, and his hands 
washed with so much care that any one who had seen him an 
hour before would hardly have recognized him again. Instead 
of an old man almost in his dotage, his wife and children 
and the notary beheld a man of forty, with an irresistible air 
of kindliness and courtesy. His face was thin and worn, but 
the hardness and sharpness of outline, which told a tale of 
weariness and strenuous labor, gave a certain air of refinement 
to his face. 

"Good-day, Pierquin," said Balthazar Claes. 

The chemist had become a father and husband again. He 
took up his youngest child and tossed him up and down. 

"Just look at the youngster," he said to the notary. 
" Doesn't a pretty child like this make you wish you were 
married ? Take my word for it, my dear boy, family pleasures 
make up for everything 

"Brr!" he cried, as Jean went up to the ceiling. "Down 
you come," and he set the child on the floor. Gleeful 
shrieks of laughter broke from the little one as he found him- 
self so high in the air one moment and so low the next. The 
mother looked away lest any one might see how deeply she 
was moved by this game of play. It was such a little thing, 
yet it meant a revolution in her life. 

" Now let us hear how you are getting on," said Balthazar, 
depositing his son upon the polished floor, and flinging him- 



62 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

self into an easy-chair; but the little one ran to him at once ; 
some glittering gold buttons peeped out above his father's 
high boots in a quite irresistible way. 

"You are a darling ! " said his father, taking him in his 

arms; " a Claes, every inch of you ! You run straight. 

Well, Gabriel, and how is Pere Morillon?" he said to his 
eldest son, as he pinched the boy's ear. " Do you manage 
to hold your own manfully against exercises and Latin trans- 
lations? Do you keep a good grip on your mathematics ? " 

Balthazar rose and went over to Pierquin with the courteous 
friendliness which was natural to him. "Perhaps you have 
something to ask me, my dear fellow? " he said, as he took 
the notary's arm and drew him out into the garden, adding 
as they went, " Come and have a look at my tulips." 

Mme. Claes looked after her husband, and could scarcely 
control her joy. He looked so young, so kindly, so much 
himself again. She too rose from her chair, put her arm 
round her daughter's waist, and kissed her. 

" Dear Marguerite," she said ; " darling child, I love you 
more than ever to-day." 

"Papa has not been so nice for a long, long time." 

Le Mulquinier came to announce that dinner was served. 
Mme. Claes took Balthazar's arm before Pierquin could offer 
his a second time, and the whole family went into the dining- 
room. 

Overhead the beams and rafters had been left visible in the 
vaulted ceiling, but the woodwork was cleaned and carefully 
polished once a year, and the intervening spaces were adorned 
with paintings. Tall oak sideboards lined the room, the more 
curious specimens of the family china were arranged on the 
tiers of shelves, the purple leather which covered the walls 
was stamped with designs in gold, representing hunting 
scenes. Here and there above the sideboards a group of 
foreign shells, or the bright-colored feathers of rare tropical 
birds, glowed against the sombre background. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 63 

The chairs were the square-shaped kind with twisted legs 
and low backs, covered with fringed stuff, which once were 
found in every household all over France and Italy. In one 
of these Raphael seated his " Madonna of the Chair." They 
had not been changed since the beginning of the sixteenth 
century, and the framework was black with age, but the gold- 
headed nails shone as if they were new only yesterday, and 
the stuff, carefully renewed from time to time, was a rich 
deep red. The Flanders of the sixteenth century, with its 
Spanish innovations, seemed to have risen out of the past. 

The wine flasks and decanters on the table preserved in 
their bulb-shaped outlines the grace and dignity of antique 
vases ; the glasses were the same old-fashioned goblets with 
long slender stems that are seen in old Dutch pictures. The 
English earthenware was decorated with colored figures in 
high relief, Wedgwood's ware and Palissy's designs. The 
silver was massive, square-sided, and richly ornamented ; it 
was in a very literal sense family plate, for no two pieces were 
alike, and the rise and progress of the fortunes of the house 
of Claes might have been traced from its beginnings in the 
varying styles of these heirlooms. 

It will readily be imagined that a Claes would make it a 
point of honor to have table-linen of the most magnificent 
kind, and the table-napkins were fringed in the Spanish 
fashion. The splendors locked away in the state apartments 
only came to light to grace festival days ; their glories were 
never dimmed, so to speak, by familiarity. This was the 
linen, plate, and earthenware in daily use, and everything in 
the quarter of the house where the family lived bore the 
stamp of a patriarchal quaintness. Add one more charming 
detail to complete the picture a vine clambering about the 
windows set them in a framework of green leaves. 

"You are faithful to old traditions, madame," said Pier- 
quin, as he received a plateful of thymy soup, in which there 
were small rissolettes made of meat and fried bread, accord- 



C4 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

ing to the approved Dutch and Flemish recipe, " this is the 
kind of soup that always made part of the Sunday dinner in 
our father's time ; it has been a standing dish in the Low 
Countries for ages, but I never meet with it now except here 
and in my uncle Des Raquet's house. Oh ! stay a moment 
though, old M. Savaron de Savarus at Tournai still takes a 
pride in having it served, but old Flemish ways are rapidly 
disappearing. Furniture must be a la grecque nowadays; 
there are classical bucklers, lances, helmets, and fasces on every 
mortal thing. Everybody is rebuilding his house, selling his 
old furniture, melting down his plate, or getting rid of it for 
Sevres porcelain, which is nothing like as beautiful as old 
Dresden or Oriental china. Oh ! I myself am a Fleming to 
the backbone. It goes to my heart to see coppersmiths buy- 
ing up beautiful old furniture at the price of firewood for the 
sake of the metal in the wrought-incrusted copperwork, or the 
pewter inlaid in it. Society has a mind to change its skin, I 
suppose, but the changes are more than skin deep ; we are 
losing the faculty of producing along with the old works of 
art. There is not time to do anything conscientiously when 
every one lives in such a hurry. The last time I was in Paris 
I was taken to see the pictures exhibited in the Louvre, and, 
upon my honor, they are only fit for firescreens ! Yards of 
canvas with no atmosphere, no depth of tone. Painters 
really seem to be afraid of their colors. And they intend, so 
they say, to upset our old school Heaven help them ! " 

"Our old masters used to study their pigments," said 
Balthazar; " they used to test them singly and in combina- 
tions, submitting them to the action of sunlight and rain. 
Yes, you are right ; nowadays the material resources of art 
receive less attention than formerly." 

Mme. Claes was not listening to the conversation. The 
notary's remark that china had come into fashion had set her 
thoughts wandering, and a bright idea had at once occurred 
to her. She would sell the massive silver plate which her 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 65 

brother had left her ; perhaps in that way she might pay the 
thirty thousand francs. 

Presently her husband's voice sounded through her mus- 
ings. " Aha ! " Balthazar was saying, " so they talk about my 
studies in Douai ! " 

"Yes," answered Pierquin, "everybody is wondering 
what it is that you are spending so much money over. I 
heard the First President, yesterday, lamenting that a man of 
your ability should set out to find the philosopher's stone. I 
took it upon myself to reply that you were too learned not to 
know that it would be attempting the impossible, too good a 
Christian to imagine that you could prevail over God, and 
that a Claes was far too shrewd to give hard cash for powder 
of pimperlimpimp. Still, I must confess that I share in the 
regret that is generally felt over your withdrawal from society. 
You really might be said to be lost to the town. Indeed, 
madame, you would have been pleased if you knew how 
highly every one spoke of you and of M. Claes." 

" It was very kind of you to put a stop to such absurd 
reports, which would make me ridiculous if no worse came of 
it," answered Balthazar. " Oh ! so the good folk of Douai 
think that I am ruined ! Very good, my dear Pierquin, on 
our wedding-day, in two months' time, I will give a fe"te on a 
splendid scale, which shall reinstate me in the esteem of our 
dear money-worshiping fellow-townsmen." 

The color rushed into Mme. Claes' face ; for the past two 
years the anniversary had been forgotten. This evening was 
an interval in Balthazar's life of enthusiasm which might be 
compared to one of those lucid moments in insanity when the 
powers of the mind shine with unwonted brilliancy for a little 
while ; never had there been such point and pith and sparkle 
in his talk, his manner to his children had never been more 
playfully tender, he was a father once more, and no festival 
could have given his wife such joy as this. Once more his 
eyes sought hers with a constant expression of sympathy in 
5 



66 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

them ; she felt a delicious consciousness that the same feeling 
and the same thought stirred in the depths of either heart. 

Old Le Mulquinier seemed to have grown young again ; 
seldom, indeed, had he been known to be in such spirits. 
The change in his master's manner had even more significance 
for him than for his mistress. Mme. Claes was dreaming of 
happiness, but visions of fortune filled the old serving man's 
brain, and his hopes were high. He had been wont to help 
with the mechanical part of the work, and perhaps some 
words let fall by his master when an experiment had failed, 
and the end seemed farther and farther off, had not been lost 
on the servant. Perhaps he had become infected with his 
master's enthusiasm, or an innate faculty of imitation had led 
Le Mulquinier to assimilate the ideas of those with whom he 
lived. He regarded his master with a half-superstitious awe and 
admiration in which there was a trace of selfishness. The 
laboratory was for him very much what a lottery-office is 
for many people hope organized. Every night as he lay 
down he used to say to himself, " To-morrow, who knows but 
we may be rolling in gold ? " And in the morning he awoke 
with a no less lively faith. 

He was a thorough Fleming, as his name indicated. In 
past ages the common people were distinguished merely by 
nicknames ; a man was called after the place he came from, 
after his trade, or after some moral quality or personal trait. 
But when one of the people was enfranchised, his nickname 
became his family name, and was transmitted to his burgher 
descendants. In Flanders, dealers in flax thread were called 
mulquiniers ; and the old valet's ancestor, who passed from 
serfdom into the burgher class, had, doubtless, dealt in linen 
thread. That had been some generations ago, and now the 
grandson of the dealer in flax was reduced to the old condi- 
tion of servitude, albeit, unlike his grandsire, he received 
wages. The history of Flanders, its flax trade, its industries, 
and its commerce, was in a manner epitomized in the old 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 67 

servant, who was often called Mulquinier for the sake of 
euphony. 

There was something quaint in his appearance and charac- 
ter. In person he was tall and thin; his broad, triangular 
countenance had been so badly scarred by the smallpox that 
the white shiny seams gave it a grotesque appearance ; the 
little tawny eyes, which exactly matched the color of his 
sleek, sandy perruque, seemed to look askance at everything. 
He talked solemnly and mysteriously about the house ; his 
whole bearing and manner excused the curiosity which he 
awakened. It was believed, moreover, that as an assistant in 
the laboratory he shared and kept his master's secrets, and he 
was in consequence invested with a sort of halo of romance. 
Dwellers in the Rue de Paris watched him as he came and 
went, with an interest not unmixed with awe ; for when ques- 
tioned he was wont to deliver himself of Delphic utterances, 
and to throw out vague hints of fabulous wealth. He was 
proud of being necessary to his master, and exercised, on the 
strength of it, a petty tyranny over his fellow-servants, taking 
advantage of his position to make himself master below stairs. 
Unlike Flemish servants, who become greatly attached to the 
family they serve, he cared for no one in the house but Bal- 
thazar ; Mme. Claes might be in trouble, some piece of good 
fortune might befall the household, but it was all one to 
Le Mulquinier, who ate his bread and butter and drank his 
beer with an unmoved countenance. 

After dinner, Mrae. Claes suggested that they should take 
coffee in the garden beside the centre bed of tulips. The 
flowers had been carefully labeled and planted in pots, which 
were embedded in the earth and arranged pyramid fashion, 
with a unique specimen of parrot-tulip at the highest point. 
No other collector possessed a bulb of the Tulipa Claesiana. 
Balthazar's father had many times refused ten thousand florins 
for this marvel, which had all the seven colors ; the edges of 
its slender petals gleamed like gold in the sun. The older 



68 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

Claes had taken extraordinary precautions, keeping it in the 
parlor, lest by any means a single seed should be stolen from 
him, and had often passed entire days in admiring it. The 
stem was strong, elastic, erect, and a beautiful green color; 
the flower cup possessed the perfect form and pure brilliancy 
of coloring which were once so much sought after in these 
gorgeous flowers. 

"Thirty or forty thousand francs' worth there ! " was the 
notary's comment, as his eyes wandered from the mass of 
color to Mme. Claes's face ; but she was too much delighted 
by the sight of the flowers, which glowed like precious stones 
in the rays of the sunset, to catch the drift of this business- 
like remark. 

"What is the good of it all? you ought to sell them," 
Pierquin went on, turning to Balthazar. 

'' Pshaw ! what is the money to me ! " answered Claes, with 
the gesture of a man to whom forty thousand francs is a mere 
trifle. 

There was a brief pause, filled by the children's exclama- 
tions. 

" Do look at this one, mamma ! " 

"Oh, what a beauty ! " 

" What is this one called, mamma? " 

"What an abyss for the human mind!" exclaimed Bal- 
thazar, clasping his hands with a despairing gesture. "One 
combination of hydrogen and oxygen, in different propor- 
tions, but under the same conditions, and all those different 
colors are produced from the same materials ! " 

The terms which he used were quite familiar to his wife, but 
he spoke so rapidly that she did not grasp his meaning ; Bal- 
thazar bethought him that she had studied his favorite science, 
and said, making a mysterious sign, " You should understand 
that, but you would not yet understand all that I meant," and 
lie seemed to relapse into one of his usual musing fits. 

" I should think so," said Pierquin, taking the cup of coffee 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 69 

which Marguerite handed him. " Drive nature out by the 
door and she comes in at the window," he went on, speaking 
to Mme. Claes in a low voice. " You will perhaps be so good 
as to speak to him yourself; the devil himself would not rouse 
him now from his cogitations. He will keep on like this till 
to-morrow morning, I suppose." 

He said good-bye to Claes, who appeared not to hear a 
syllable, kissed little Jean in his mother's arms, made a pro- 
found bow to Mme. Claes, and went. As soon as the great 
door was shut upon the visitor, Balthazar threw his arm round 
his wife's waist, and dispelled all her uneasiness over his 
feigned reverie by whispering in her ear, " I knew exactly how 
to get rid of him ! " 

Mme. Claes raised her face to her husband without attempt- 
ing to hide the happy tears which filled her eyes. Then she 
let little Jean slip to the ground, and laid her head on Bal- 
thazar's shoulder. 

"Let us go back to the parlor," she said after a pause. 

Balthazar was in the wildest spirits that evening ; he in- 
vented innumerable games for the children, and joined in 
them himself so heartily that he did not notice that his wife 
left the room two or three times. At half-past nine o'clock, 
when Jean had been put to bed, and Marguerite had helped 
her sister Felicie to undress, she came down stairs into the 
parlor, and found her mother sitting in the low chair talking 
with her father, and saw that her hand lay in his. She turned 
to go without speaking, fearing to disturb her father and 
mother, but Mme. Claes saw her. 

"Here, come here, Marguerite, dear child," she said, 
drawing the girl towards her, and kissing her affectionately, 
" Take your book with you to your room," she added, " and 
mind you go early to bed." 

"Good-night, darling child," said Balthazar. 

Marguerite gave her father a good-night kiss and vanished. 
Claes and his wife were alone for a while. They watched the 



70 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

last twilight tints fade away in the garden, the leaves turned 
black, the outlines grew dim and shadowy in the summer 
dusk. When it was almost dark, Balthazar spoke in an un 
steady voice. " Let us go upstairs," he said. 

Long before the introduction of the English custom of re- 
garding a wife's apartment as a sort of inner sanctuary, a 
Flamande's room had been impenetrable. This is due to no 
ostentation of virtue on the part of the good housewives ; it 
springs from a habit of mind acquired in early childhood, a 
household superstition which looks on a bedroom as a deli- 
cious sanctuary, where there should be an atmosphere of 
gentle thoughts and feelings, where simplicity is combined 
with all the sweetest and most sacred associations of social 
life. 

Any woman in Mme. Claes' position would have done her 
best to surround herself with dainty belongings ; but Mme. 
Claes had brought a refined taste to the task, and a knowledge 
of the subtle influence which externals exert upon our moods. 
What would have been luxury for a pretty woman was for her 
a necessity. "It is in one's own power to be a pretty woman," 
so another Josephine had said ; but there had been something 
artificial in the grace of the wife of the First Consul, who 
had never lost sight of her maxim for a moment ; Mme. Claes 
had understood its import, and was always simple and 
natural. 

Familiar as the sight of his wife's room was to Balthazar, 
he was usually so unmindful of the things about him that a 
thrill of pleasure went through him, as if he saw it now for 
the first time. The vivid colors of the tulips, carefully ar- 
ranged in the tall, slender porcelain jars, seemed to be part 
of the pageant of a woman's triumph, the blaze of the lights 
proclaimed it as joyously as a flourish of trumpets. The 
candlelight falling on the gridelin silken stuffs brought their 
pale tints into harmony with the brilliant surroundings, break- 
ing the surface with dim golden gleams wherever it caught the 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 71 

light, shining on the petals of the flowers till they glowed 
like heaped-up gems. And these preparations had been made 
for him ! It was all for him ! 

Josephine could have found no more eloquent way of telling 
him that he was the source of all her joys and sorrows. There 
was something deliciously soothing to the soul in this room, 
something that banished every thought of sadness, till nothing 
but the consciousness of perfect and serene happiness was left. 
The soft clinging perfume of the Oriental hangings filled the air 
without palling on the senses ; the very curtains, so carefully 
drawn, revealed a jealous anxiety to treasure the lowest word 
uttered there, to shut out everything beyond from the eyes 
of him whom she had won back. 

Mme. Claes drew the tapestry hangings across the door that 
no sound might reach them from without. Then, as she stood 
for a moment wrapped in a loose dressing-gown with deep 
frills of lace at the throat, her beautiful hair, black and glossy 
as a raven's wing, making a setting for her face, Josephine 
glanced with a bright smile at her husband, who was sitting 
by the hearth. A witty woman, who at times grows beautiful 
when her soul passes into her face, can express irresistible 
hopes in her smile. 

A woman's greatest charm consists in a constant appeal to 
a man's generosity, in a graceful admission of helplessness, 
which stimulates his pride and awakens his noblest feelings. 
Is there not a magical power in such a confession of weakness? 
When the rings had slid noiselessly over the curtain-rod, she 
went towards her husband, laying her hand on a chair as 
though to find support, or to move more gracefully and dis- 
semble her lameness. It was a mute request for help. Bal- 
thazar seemed lost in thought ; his eyes rested on the pale 
olive face against its dusky background with a sense of perfect 
satisfaction ; now he shook off his musings, sprang up, took 
his wife in his arms, and carried her to the sofa. This was 
exactly what she had intended. 



72 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

" You promised," she said, taking his hands, which thrilled 
at her touch, " to let me into the secret of your researches. 
You must admit, dear, that I am worthy of the confidence, 
for I have been brave enough to study a science which the 
church condemns, so that I may understand all that you say. 
But you must not hide anything from me ; I am curious. 
And, first of all, tell me how it chanced that one morning 
you looked so troubled when I had left you so happy the 
evening before?" 

" You are dressed too coquettishly to talk about chemistry." 

" No, dear, to learn a secret which will let me a little 
further into your heart ; is not that the greatest of all joys for 
me ? All the sweetness of life is comprised, and has its source, 
in a closer understanding between two souls. And now, when 
your love is wholly and solely mine, I want to know this 
tyrannous idea which drew you away from me for so long. 
Yes, I am more jealous of a thought than all the women 
in the world. Love is vast, but love is not infinite ; and in 
science there are unfathomable depths ; I cannot let you go 
forth into them alone. I hate everything that can come 
between us; some day the fame that you are seeking so 
eagerly will be yours, and I shall be miserable. Fame would 
give you intense pleasure, would it not ? and I alone should 
be the source of your pleasures, monsieur." 

" No, dear angel, it was not a thought that set me on this 
glorious quest ; it was a man." 
' A man ! " she cried aghast. 

" Do you remember the Polish officer, Pepita, who spent a 
night here in our house in 1809 ? " 

" Do I remember him? I am vexed with myself because I 
see his face so often his bald head, the curling ends of his 
mustache, his sharp worn features, and those eyes of his, 
like flickering fires lit in hell, shining out of the coal-black 
hollows under his brows ! There was something appalling in 
his listless mechanical way of walking ! If all the inns had 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 73 

not been full, he certainly should never have spent the night 
here!" 

" Well, that Polish gentleman was a M. Adam de Wierz- 
chownia," answered Balthazar. "That evening, when you 
left us sitting in the parlor by ourselves, we fell somehow to 
talking about chemistry. He had been forced to relinquish 
his studies from poverty, and had become a soldier. If I 
remember rightly, it was over a glass of cau sucree that we 
recognized each other as adepts. When I told Mulquinier to 
bring the sugar in lumps and not in powder, the captain gave 
a start of surprise. 

" ' Have you ever studied chemistry?" he asked. 

" 'Yes, with Lavoisier,' I told him. 

" 'You are very lucky,' he exclaimed; 'you are rich, you 
are your own master ' 

" He gave one of those groans that reveal a hell of misery 
hidden and locked away in a man's heart or brain, a sigh of 
suppressed and helpless rage of which words cannot give any 
idea, and completed his sentence with a glance that made me 
shudder. After a pause he told me that, since what might be 
called the death of Poland, he had taken refuge in Sweden, 
and there had sought consolation in the study of chemistry, 
which had always had an irresistible attraction for him. 

" ' Well,' he added, ' I see that you have recognized, as I 
have, that if gum arabic, sugar, and starch are reduced to a 
fine powder, they are almost indistinguishable, and, if analyzed, 
yield the same ultimate result.' 

"There was a second pause. He eyed me keenly for a 
while, then he spoke confidentially and in a low voice. To- 
day only the recollection of the general sense of those solemn 
words remains with me ; but there was something so earnest 
in his tones, such fierce energy in his gestures, that every 
word seemed to vibrate through me, to be beaten into my 
brain with hammer-strokes. These, in brief, were his reason- 
ings ; for me they were like the coal which the seraphim laid 



74 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

on the lips of the Prophet Isaiah, for after my studies with 
Lavoisier I could understand all that they meant. 

" ' The ultimate identity of these three substances, to all 
appearances so different,' he went on, ' suggested the idea 
that all natural productions might be reduced to a single ele- 
ment. The investigations of modern chemistry have proved 
that this law holds good to a large extent. Chemistry classi- 
fies all creation under two distinct headings organic nature 
and inorganic nature. Organic nature comprises every animal 
or vegetable growth, every organic structure however ele- 
mentary, or, to speak more accurately, everything which 
possesses more or less capacity of motion, which is the measure 
of its sentient powers. Organic nature is therefore the most 
important part of our world. Now, analysis has reduced all 
the products of organic nature to four elements, three of 
which are gases nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen ; and the 
fourth, carbon, is a non-metallic solid. 

"'Inorganic nature, on the other hand with so little 
diversity among its forms, with no power of movement or of 
sentience, destitute, perhaps, of the power of growth, con- 
ceded to it on insufficient grounds by Linnaeus inorganic 
nature numbers fifty-three simple bodies, and all its products 
are formed by their various combinations. Is it likely that 
the constituents should be most numerous when the results are 
so slightly various? My old master used to hold that there 
was a single element common to all these fifty-three bodies, 
and that some unknown force, no longer exerted, brought 
about the apparent modifications ; this unknown force, in his 
opinion, the human intellect might discover and apply once 
more. Well, then, imagine that force discovered and once 
more set in motion, chemistry would be the science of a single 
element. 

" ' Organic and inorganic nature are probably alike based 
upon four elements; but if we should succeed in decomposing 
nitrogen, for instance, which we may look upon as a negation, 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 75 

their number would be reduced to three. We are on the very 
verge of the Grand Ternary of the ancients we, who are 
wont to scoff, in our ignorance, at the alchemists of the 
middle ages ! Modern chemistry has gone no further than 
this. It is much, and yet it is very little. Much has been 
accomplished, for chemistry has learned to shrink before no 
difficulties ; little, because what has been accomplished is as 
nothing compared with what remains to do. 'Tis a fair 
science, yet she owes much to chance. 

"' There is the diamond, for instance, that crystallized 
drop of pure carbon, the very last substance, one would 
think, that man could create. The alchemists themselves, 
the chemists of the middle ages, who thought that gold could 
be resolved into its different elements, and made up again 
from them, would have shrunk in dismay from the attempt to 
make the diamond. Yet we have discovered its nature and 
the law of its crystallization. 

" ' As for me,' he added, ' I have gone farther yet ! I 
have learned from an experiment I once made, that the mys- 
terious Ternary, which has filled men's imaginations from time 
immemorial, will never be discovered by any analytical pro- 
cess, for analysis tends in no one special direction. But, 
in the first place, I will describe the experiment. You 
take seeds of cress (selecting a single one from among the 
many substances of organic nature), and sow them in flowers 
of sulphur, which is a simple inorganic body. Water the 
seeds with distilled water, to make certain that no unknown 
element mingles with the products of germination. Under 
these conditions the seeds will sprout and grow, drawing all 
their nourishment from elements ascertained by analysis. 
From time to time cut the cress and burn it, until you have 
collected a sufficient quantity of ash for your analysis ; and 
what does it yield ? Silica, alumina, calcic phosphate and 
carbonate, magnesic carbonate, potassic sulphate and car- 
bonate, and ferric oxide ; just as if the cress had sprung up in 



76 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

the earth by the waterside. Yet none of these substances are 
present in the soil in which the cresses grew; sulphur is a 
simple body, the composition of distilled water is definitely 
known ; none of them exist in the seeds themselves. We can 
only suppose that there is one element common to the cress 
and its environment ; that the air, the distilled water, the 
flowers of sulphur, and the various substances detected by an 
analysis of the calcined cress (that is to say, the potassium, 
lime, magnesia, alumina, and so forth) are all various forms 
of one common element, which is free in the atmosphere, and 
that the sun has been the active agent. 

" 'There can be no cavil at this experiment,' he exclaimed, 
' and thence I deduce the existence of the Absolute ! One 
element common to all substances, modified by a unique force 
that is stating the problem of the Absolute in its simplest 
form, a problem which the human intellect can solve, or so it 
seems to me. 

"'You are confronted at the outset by the mysterious 
Ternary, before which humanity has knelt in every age 
primitive matter, the agency, and the result. Throughout 
all human experience you find the awful number "three," 
in all religions, sciences, and laws. And there,' he said, ' war 
and poverty put an end to my researches ! 

" ' You are a pupil of Lavoisier's ; you are rich, and can 
spend your life as you will ; I will share my guesses at truth 
with you, the results of the experiments which gave me glimpses 
of the end to which research should be directed. The primi- 
tive element must be an element common to oxygen, hydrogen, 
nitrogen, and carbon ; the agency must be the common prin- 
ciple of positive and negative electricity. If after inventing 
and applying test upon test you can establish these two theories 
beyond a doubt, you will be in possession of the " first cause," 
the key to all the phenomena of nature. 

" ' Oh ! monsieur, when you carry there, 1 he said, striking 
his forehead, ' the last word of creation, a foreshadowing of 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 77 

the Absolute, can you call it living to be dragged hither and 
thither over the earth, to be one among blind masses of men 
who hurl themselves upon each other at a given signal without 
knowing why? My waking life is an inverted dream. My 
body comes and goes, does this and that, amid men and 
cannon, goes under fire, and marches across Europe at the 
bidding of a power which I despise ; and I have no conscious- 
ness of it all. My inmost soul is rapt in the contemplation 
of one fixed idea, engrossed by one all-absorbing thought 
the Quest of the Absolute ; to detect the force that is seen at 
work when a few seeds, which cannot be told one from another, 
set under the same conditions, will spring up and blossom, 
and some flowers will be white and some will be yellow. You 
can see its mysterious operation in insects, by feeding silk- 
worms, apparently alike in structure, on the same leaves, and 
some will spin a white, others a yellow cocoon ; you can 
see it in man himself when his own children bear no resem- 
blance to their father or mother. Hence, may we not logi- 
cally infer that there is one cause underlying these effects, 
beneath all the phenomena of nature ? Is it not in con- 
formity with all our thoughts of God to imagine that He has 
brought everything to pass by the simplest means and in the 
simplest manner? 

" ' The followers of Pythagoras of old adored the one 
whence issued the many (their expression for the primitive 
element); men have reverenced the number " two," the first 
aggregation and type of all that follow ; and in every age and 
creed the number "three" has represented God (that is to 
say, matter, force, and result; through all these confused 
gropings of the human mind there is a dim perception of the 
Absolute ! Stahl and Becher, Paracelsus and Agrippa, all 
great seekers of occult causes, had for password Trismegistus 
that is to say, the Grand Ternary. Ignorant people, who 
echo and re-echo the old condemnations of alchemy, that 
transcendental chemistry, have doubtless no suspicion that 



78 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

our discoveries justify the impassioned researches of ,those 
forgotten great men ! 

"'Even when the secret of the Absolute is found, the 
problem of movement remains to be grappled with. Ah me ! 
while shot and shell are my daily fare, while I am command- 
ing men to fling away their lives for nothing, my old master 
is making discovery on discovery, soaring higher and faster 
towards the Absolute. And I ? I shall die, like a dog, in 
the corner of a battery ! ' 

"As soon as the poor great man had grown somewhat 
calmer, he said in a brotherly fashion that touched me 

" ' If I should think of any experiment worth making, I 
will leave it to you before I die.' 

"My Pepita," said Balthazar, pressing his wife's hand, 
" tears of rage and despair coursed down his hollow cheeks as 
he spoke, and his words kindled a fire in me. Somewhat in 
this way Lavoisier had reasoned before, but Lavoisier had not 
the courage of his opinions " 

" Indeed ! " cried Mme. Claes, interrupting, in spite of 
herself, " then it was this man who only spent one night under 
our roof that robbed us all of your affection ; one phrase, one 
single word of his has ruined our children's happiness and 
our own ? Oh ! dear Balthazar, did he make the sign of the 
cross? Did you look at him closely? Only the Tempter 
could have those yellow eyes, blazing with the fire of Prome- 
theus. Yes. Only the devil himself could have snatched 
you away from me ; ever since that day you have been neither 
father nor husband nor head of the household " 

"What ! " exclaimed Balthazar, springing to his feet, and 
looking searchingly at his wife, " do you blame your husband 
for rising above other men, that he may spread the divine 
purple of glory beneath your feet ? a poor tribute compared 
with the treasures of your heart. Why, do you know what I 
have achieved in these three years? I have made giant 
strides, my Pepita ! " he cried, in his enthusiasm. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 79 

It seemed to his wife at that moment that the glow of 
inspiration lighted up his face as love had never done, and 
her tears flowed as she listened. 

" I have combined chlorine and nitrogen ; I have decom- 
posed several substances hitherto believed to be elements ; I 
have discovered new metals. Nay," he said, as he looked at 
his weeping wife, " I have decomposed tears. Tears are com- 
posed of a little phosphate of lime, chloride of sodium, 
mucus and water." 

He went on speaking without seeing that Josephine's face 
was drawn and distorted with pain ; he had mounted the 
winged steed of science, and was far from the actual world. 

"That analysis, dear, is one of the strongest proofs of the 
theory of the Absolute. All life, of course, implies combustion ; 
the duration of life varies as the fire burns rapidly or slowly. 
The existence of the mineral is prolonged indefinitely, for in 
minerals combustion is potential, latent, or imperceptible. 
In the case of many plants this waste is so constantly repaired 
through the agency of moisture, that their life seems to be 
practically endless ; there are living vegetable growths which 
have been in existence since the last cataclysm. But when, 
for some unknown end, nature makes a more delicate and per- 
fect piece of mechanism, endowing it with sentience, instinct, 
or intelligence (which mark three successive stages of organic 
development), the combustion of vitality in such organisms 
varies directly with the amount performed. 

"Man, representing the highest point of intelligence, is a 
piece of mechanism which possesses the faculty of thought, 
one-half of creative power. And combustion is accordingly 
more intense in man than in any other animal organism ; its 
effects may be in a measure traced by the presence of phosphates, 
sulphates, and carbonates in the system, which are revealed by 
analysis. What are these substances but traces of the action 
of electric fluid, the life-giving principle ? Should we not look 
to find the compounds produced by electricity in greater va- 



80 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

riety in man than in any other animal ? Was it not to be 
expected that man would possess greater facilities for absorb- 
ing large quantities of the absolute element, greater powers 
for assimilating it, an organization more perfectly adapted for 
converting it to his own uses, for drawing from it his physical 
force and his mental power? I am sure of it. Man is a 
matrass. In my opinion the idiot's brain contains less phos- 
phorus, less of all the products of electro-magnetism, which 
are redundant in the madman ; they are present in small 
quantities in the ordinary brain, and are found in their right 
proportion in the brain of the man of genius. The porter, 
the dancer, the universal lover, and the glutton misdirect the 
force stored up in their systems through the agency of elec- 
tricity. Indeed, our sentiments " 

"That is enough, Balthazar! You terrify me; these are 
blasphemies. What ! my love for you is " 

" Matter etherealized, and given off," answered Claes, "the 
secret doubtless of the Absolute. Only think of it ! If I 

should be the first I the first if I find it out if I 

find if I find !" 

The words fell from him in three different tones of voice ; 
his face gradually underwent a change ; he looked like a man 
inspired. 

" I will make metals, I will make diamonds ; all that nature 
does I will do." 

"Will you be any happier?" cried Josephine, in her de- 
spair. "Accursed science! Accursed fiend ! You are for- 
getting, Claes, that this is the sin of pride by which Satan 
fell. You are encroaching on God ! " 

"Oh! Oh! " 

"He denies God!" she cried, wringing her hands. 
" Claes, God wields a power which will never be yours." 

At this slight on his beloved science Claes looked at his 
wife, and a quiver seemed to pass through him. 

"What force?" he said. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 81 

"The one sole force movement. That is what I have 
gathered from the books I have read for your sake. You can 
analyze flowers, or fruit, or Malaga wine, and of course dis- 
cover their exact chemical composition, and find elements in 
them which apparently are not to be found in the surround- 
ings, as with that cress you spoke of; possibly by dint of effort 
you could collect those elements together, but would you 
make flowers, or fruit, or Malaga wine from them? Could 
you reproduce the mysterious action of the sun? of the 
Spanish climate? Decomposition is one thing, creation is 
another." 

" If I should discover the compelling force, I could create." 

"Nothing will stop him !" cried Pepita, with despair 
in her voice. "Oh! my love, love is slain. I have lost 
love " 

She burst into sobs, and through her tears her eyes seemed 
more beautiful than ever for the sorrow, and pity, and love 
that shone in them. 

"Yes," she said, sobbing, "you are dead to everything 
else. I see it all. Science is stronger in you than you yourself ; 
you have soared too far and too high ; you can never drop to 
earth again to be the companion of a poor woman. What 
happiness could I give you now ? Ah ! I tried to believe that 
God had made you to show forth His works and to sing His 
praises ; that this irresistible and tyrannous power had been 
set in your heart by God's own hand. It was a melancholy 
consolation. But, no. God is good ; He would have left a 
little room in your heart for the wife who idolizes you, and 
the children over whom you should watch. The devil only 
could enable you to walk alone among those bottomless pits ; 
in darkness, lighted not by faith in heaven, but by a hideous 
belief in your own powers ! Otherwise, you would have seen, 
dear, that you had run through nine hundred thousand francs 
in three years. Ah ! do me justice, my God on earth ! I do 
not murmur at anything you do. If we had only each other, 
6 



82 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

I would pour out both our fortunes at your feet ; I would pray 
you to take it and fling it in your furnace, and laugh to see it 
vanish in curling smoke. Then, if we were poor, I should 
not be ashamed to beg, so that you might have coal for your 
furnace fire. Oh ! more than that, I would joyfully fling 
myself into it, if that would help you to find your execrable 
Absolute, since it seems that all your happiness and hopes are 
bound up in that unsolved riddle. But there are our children, 
Claes ; what will become of our children if you do not find 
out this hellish secret very soon ? Do you know why Pierquin 
came this evening ? It was to ask for thirty thousand francs, 
a debt which we cannot pay. Your estates are yours no 
longer. I told him that you had the thirty thousand francs, 
to spare the awkwardness of answering the question he was 
certain to ask ; and it has occurred to me that we might raise 
the money by selling our old-fashioned silver." 

She saw the tears about to gather in her husband's eyes, 
flung herself at his feet, and raised her clasped hands implor- 
ingly in despair. 

" Dearest," she cried, " if you cannot give up your studies, 
leave them for a little until we can save money enough for you 
to resume them again. Oh ! I do not condemn them ! To 
please you, I would blow your furnace fires ; but do not drag 
our children down to poverty and want. You cannot love 
them surely any more ; science has eaten away your heart, but 
you owe it to them to leave their lives unclouded, you must 
not leave them to a life of wretchedness. I have not loved 
them enough. I have often wished that I had borne no chil- 
dren, that so our souls might be knit more closely together, 
that I might share your inner life ! And now, to stifle the 
pangs of my remorse, I must plead my children's cause before 
my own." 

Her hair had come unbound, and fell over her shoulders ; 
all the thoughts that crowded up within her seemed to flash 
like arrows from her eyes. She triumphed over her rival. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 83 

Balthazar caught her in his arms, laid her on the sofa, and sat 
at her feet. 

" And is it I who have caused your grief? " he said, speak- 
ing like a man awakened from a painful dream. 

"Poor Claes, if you hurt us, it was in spite of yourself," 
she said, passing her hand through his hair. " Come, sit 
here beside me," she added, pointing to a place on the sofa. 
" There ! I have forgotten all about it, now that we have you 
again. It is nothing, dear, we shall retrieve all our losses ; 
but you will not wander so far from your wife again ? Promise 
me that you will not. My great, handsome Claes. You 
must let me exercise over that noble heart of yours the 
woman's influence that artists and great men need to soothe 
them in failure and disappointment. You must let me cross 
you sometimes, for your own good. I will never abuse the 
power, and you may answer sharply and grumble at me. 
Yes, you shall be famous, but you must be happy too ! Do 
not put chemistry first. Listen ! we will not ask too much ; 
we will let science share your heart with us, but you must deal 
fairly, and our half of your heart must be really ours ! Now, 
tell me, is not my unselfishness sublime? " 

She drew a smile from Balthazar. With a woman's won- 
derful tact, she had changed the solemn tone of their talk, 
and brought the burning question into the domains of jest, a 
woman's own domain. But even with the laughter on her 
lips, something seemed to clutch tightly at her heart, and her 
pulse scarcely throbbed as evenly and gently as usual ; but 
when she saw revived in Balthazar's eyes the expression which 
used to thrill her with delight and exultation, and knew that 
none of her old power was lost, she smiled again at him as 
she said 

" Believe me, Balthazar, nature made us to feel ; and 
though you will have it that we are nothing but an electrical 
mechanism, your gases and etherealized matter will never 
account for our power of foreseeing the future." 



84 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

"Yes," he answered, "by means of affinities. The power 
of vision which makes the poet and the deductive power of 
the man of science are both based on visible affinities, though 
they are impalpable and imponderable, so that ordinary 
minds look on them as moral phenomena, but in reality they 
are purely physical. Every dreamer of dreams sees and 
draws deductions from what he sees. Unluckily, such affin- 
ities as these are too rare, and the indications are too slight 
to be submitted to analysis and observation." 

"And this," she said, coming closer for a kiss, to put 
chemistry, which had returned so inopportunely at her ques- 
tion, to flight again, " is this to be an affinity ? " 

" No, a combination ; two substances which have the same 
sign produce no chemical action." 

" Hush ! hush ! " she said, " if you do not wish me to die 
of sorrow. Yes, dear, to see my rival always before me, even 
in the ecstasy of love, is more than I can bear." 

"But, my dear heart, you are always in every thought of 
mine ; my work is to make our name famous, you are the 
undercurrent of it all." 

" Let us see ; look into my eyes ! " 

Excitement had brought back all the beauty of youth to 
her face, and her husband saw nothing but her face above a 
mist of lace and muslin. " Yes, I did very wrong to neglect 
you for science. And, Pepita, when I fall to musing again, 
as I shall do, you must rouse me; I wish it." 

Her eyes fell, and she let him take her hand, her greatest 
beauty, a hand that was at once strong and delicately shaped. 

"But I am not satisfied yet," she said. 

" You are so enchantingly lovely, that you can ask and 
have anything." 

" I want to wreck your laboratory and bind this science of 
yours in chains," she said, fire flashing from her eyes. 

"Well, then, the devil take chemistry!" earnestly ex- 
claimed Balthazar. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 85 

"All my grief is blotted out at this moment," she said; 
"after this, inflict any pain on me." 

Tears came to Balthazar's eyes at the words. 

" You are right," he said ; "I only saw you through a veil, 
as it were, and I no longer heard you, it had come to that 



"If I had been alone," she said, "I could have borne it 
in silence ; I would not have raised my voice, my sovereign ; 
but there were your sons to think of, Claes. Be sure of this, 
that if you had dissipated all your fortune, even for a glorious 
end, your great motives would have weighed for nothing with 
the world, your children would have suffered for what the 
world would call your extravagance. It should be sufficient, 
should it not, for your far-seeing mind, if your wife calls your 
attention to a danger which you had not noticed? Let us 
talk no more about it," she added, smiling at him, with a 
bright light dancing in her eyes. "Let us not be only half- 
happy this evening, Claes." 

On the morrow of this crisis in the fortunes of the house- 
hold, Balthazar Claes never went near his laboratory, and 
spent the day in his wife's society. Doubtless at Josephine's 
instance he had promised to relinquish his experiments. On 
the following day the family went to spend two months in the 
country, only returning to town to make preparations for the 
ball that had always been given in former years on the anni- 
versary of their marriage. 

Balthazar's affairs had become greatly involved, partly 
through debts, partly through neglect ; every day brought 
fresh proof of this. His wife never added to his annoyance 
by reproaches ; on the contrary, she did her utmost to meet 
and smooth over their embarrassments. There had been 
seven servants in their household on the occasion of their 
last "At Home," only three of them now remained Le Mul- 
quinier, Josette the cook, and an old waiting-maid, Martha 
by name, who had been with her mistress ever since Mme. 



86 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

Claes had left the convent. With so limited a retinue it was 
impossible to receive the aristocracy of Douai; but Mme. 
Claes, who was equal to the emergency, suggested that a chef 
should be sent for from Paris, that their gardener's son should 
be pressed into their service, and that they should borrow 
Pierquin's man. Nothing betrayed the straits that they were in. 

During the three weeks of preparation Mine. Claes kept her 
husband so cleverly employed that he did not miss his old 
occupations. She commissioned him to choose the flowers 
and exotic plants for the decoration of the staircase, the 
rooms, and the gallery; at another time she sent him to 
Dunkirk to procure some of the huge fish, without which a 
Netherland banquet would be shorn of all its glory. A fete 
given by the Claes was a very important function, demanding 
a prodigious amount of forethought and a heavy correspond- 
ence ; for in the Low Countries, where family traditions of 
hospitality are sedulously maintained, for masters and servants 
alike, a successful dinner is a triumph scored at the expense 
of the guests. 

Oysters arrived from Ostend, fruit was sent for from Paris, 
and grouse from Scotland, no detail was neglected, the Maison 
Claes was to entertain on the old lavish scale. Moreover, the 
ball at the Maison Claes was a well-known social event with 
which the winter season opened in Douai, and Douai at that 
time was the chief town of the department. For fifteen years, 
therefore, it had behooved Balthazar to distinguish himself on 
this occasion ; and so well had he acquitted himself as a host, 
that the ball was talked of for twenty leagues round. The 
toilets, the invitations sent out, and any novelty that ap- 
peared even in the smallest details, were discussed all over the 
department. 

This bustle of preparation left Claes little time for medita- 
tion on the Quest of the Absolute. His thoughts had been 
turned into other channels, old domestic instincts revived the 
dormant pride of the Fleming, the householder awoke, and 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 87 

the man of science flung himself heart and soul into the task 
of astonishing the town. He determined that some new re- 
finement of art should give this evening a character of its own ; 
and of all the whims of extravagance he chose the fairest, the 
costliest, and most fleeting, filling his house with scented 
thickets of rare plants, and preparing bouquets for the ladies. 
Everything was in keeping with this unprecedented luxury; 
it seemed as if nothing that could ensure success were lacking. 

But the zgth Bulletin, bearing the particulars of the rout of 
the Grand Army and of the terrible passage of the Beresina, 
reached Douai that afternoon. The news made a deep and 
gloomy impression on the Douaisians, and out of patriotism 
every one declined to dance. 

Among the letters that reached Douai from Poland, there 
was one for Balthazar. It was from M. de Wierzchownia, 
who was at that moment in Dresden, dying of the wounds 
received in a recent engagement. Several ideas had occurred 
to him, he said, since they had spoken together of the Quest 
of the Absolute, and these ideas he desired to leave as a legacy 
to his host of three years ago. After reading the letter Claes 
fell into deep musings, which did honor to his patriotism ; but 
his wife knew better, she saw that a second and deeper shadow 
had fallen over her festival. The glory of the Maison Claes 
seemed dimmed, as it were, by its approaching eclipse; there 
was a feeling of gloom in the atmosphere in spite of the mag- 
nificence, in spite of the display of all the treasures of bric-a- 
brac collected by six generations of amateurs, and now beheld 
for the last time by the admiring eyes of the Douaisians. 

The queen of the evening was Marguerite, who made her 
first appearance in society. All eyes were turned on her, 
partly because of her fresh simplicity and the innocent frank- 
ness of her expression, partly because the young girl seemed 
almost like a part of the old house. With the soft rounded 
contour of her face, the chestnut hair parted in the middle, 
and smoothed down on either side of her brow, clear hazel 



88 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

eyes, pretty rounded arms and plump yet slender form, she 
might have stepped out of the canvas of one of the old Flemish 
pictures on the wall. You could read indications of a firm 
will in the broad high forehead, gentle, shy, and sedate as she 
seemed ; and though there was nothing sad or languid about 
her, there was but little girlish gleefulness in her face. 
Thoughtfulness there was, and thrift, and a sense of duty, all 
Flemish characteristics; and, on a second glance, there was a 
certain charm and softness of outline and a meek pride which 
atoned for a lack of animation, and gave promise of domestic 
happiness. By some freak of nature, which physiologists as 
yet cannot explain, she bore no likeness to either father or 
mother, but she was the living image of her maternal great- 
grandmother, a Conyncks of Bruges, whose portrait had been 
religiously preserved, and bore witness to the resemblance. 

Supper gave some life to the ball. If the disasters that had 
befallen the Grand Army forbade the relaxation of dancing, 
no one apparently felt that the prohibition need apply to the 
pleasures of the table. Good patriots, however, left early, 
and only a few indifferent spirits remained, with some few 
card-players, and the intimate friends of the family. Little 
by little silence fell on the brilliantly-lighted house, to which 
all Douai had been wont to flock, and by one o'clock in the 
morning the gallery was empty, the candles were extinguished 
in one salon after another, and the courtyard itself, so lately 
full of noises and lights, had settled down into its wonted 
darkness and gloom. It was like a foreshadowing of the 
future. 

As soon as the Claes returned to their rooms, Balthazar 
gave his wife the Polish officer's letter to read; she gave it 
back to him mournfully, she foresaw the end. 

From that day forth the tedium of his life began visibly to 
weigh on Balthazar's spirits. In the morning, after breakfast, 
he used to play with little Jean for a while in the parlor, and 
talked with the two girls, who were busy with their sewing, or 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 89 

embroidery, or lace-work ; but he soon wearied of the play 
and of the talk, and everything seemed to be a set task. 
When his wife came down, having changed her wrapper for a 
morning dress, he was still sitting in the low chair, gazing 
blankly at Marguerite and Felicie ; the rattle of their bobbins 
apparently did not disturb him. When the newspaper came, 
he read it defiberately through, like a retired tradesman at a 
loss how to kill time. Then he would rise to his feet, look at 
the sky for a while through the window panes, listlessly mend 
the fire, and sit down again in his chair, as if the tyrannous 
ideas within him had deprived him of all consciousness of his 
movements. 

Mine. Claes keenly regretted her defective education and 
lack of memory. It was difficult for her to sustain an inter- 
esting conversation ; perhaps it is always difficult for two per- 
sons who have said everything to each other to find anything 
new to talk of unless they look for it among indifferent topics. 
The life of the heart has its moments, and wants contrasts; 
the practical questions of daily life are soon disposed of by 
energetic minds accustomed to make prompt decisions, and 
social frivolity is unendurable to two souls who love. Such 
souls, thus isolated, who know each other thoroughly, should 
seek their enjoyments in the highest regions of thought, for it 
is impossible to set something little against something that is 
vast. Moreover, when a man has dwelt for long on great 
subjects, he is not easy to amuse, unless there is something of 
the child in his nature, the power of flinging himself into the 
present moment, the simple fresh-heartedness that makes men 
of great genius such charming children ; but is not this youth- 
fulness of heart rare indeed among those who have set them- 
selves to see and know and understand all things? 

During those months Mme. Claes tried all the expedients 
which love or necessity could suggest ; she even learned to 
play backgammon, a game that had always presented insuper- 
able difficulties to her mind ; she tried to interest Balthazar 



90 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

in the girls' education, consulting him about their studies, 
planning courses of lessons ; but all these resources came to 
an end at last, and Josephine and Balthazar were in somewhat 
the same position as Mme. de Maintenon and Louis XIV. 
But Mme. de Maintenon could bring the pomps of power to 
her aid ; she had wily courtiers who lent themselves to her 
comedies, playing their parts as ambassadors from Siam, and 
envoys from the Grand Sophi, to divert a weary king ; and 
Louis XIV., after draining the wealth of France, had known 
what it was to be reduced to a younger brother's shifts for 
raising money ; he had outlived youth and success, and had 
come to know old age and failure, and, in spite of his 
grandeur, to a piteous sense of his own helplessness ; and she, 
the royal bonne, who had soothed his children, was not always 
able to soothe their father, who had squandered wealth and 
power and human lives, who had given his life for vanity and 
set God at nought, and was now paying the penalty of it all. 
But Claes was not suffering from exhaustion, but from unem- 
ployed energy. 

One overwhelming thought possessed him. He was dream- 
ing of the glories of science, of adding to the knowledge of 
the world, of fame that might have been his. He was suffer- 
ing as a struggling artist suffers, like Samson bound to the 
pillars of the temple of the Philistines. So the result was 
much the same for the two sovereigns, though the intellectual 
monarch was suffering through his strength, and the other 
through his weakness. 

What could Pepita do, unaided, for this kind of scientific 
nostalgia ? At first she tried every means that family life 
afforded her, then she called society to the rescue, and gave 
two "cafes" every week. Cafes had recently superseded 
"teas" in Douai. At these social functions, the invited 
guests sipped the delicious wines and liquors with which the 
cellars always overflow in that favored land, drank their cafe 
noir or cafe au lait frappe, and partook of various Flemish 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 91 

delicacies ; while the women sang ballads, discussed each 
other's toilets, and retailed all the gossip of the town. It 
is just as it was in the time of Mieris or Terburg, always the 
same pictures, but some of the details are altered ; the droop- 
ing scarlet feathers and gray high-crowned hats are wanting, 
and you miss the guitars and the picturesque costumes of the 
sixteenth century. 

Balthazar made strenuous efforts to act his part as master 
of the house, but his constrained courtesy and forced anima- 
tion left him in a state of languor, which showed but too 
plainly what inroads the malady had made, and these dissipa- 
tions were powerless to alleviate the symptoms. Balthazar, 
on the brink of the precipice, might catch at branch after 
branch, but the fall, though delayed, was so much the heavier. 
He never spoke of his old occupations, he never uttered 
regrets, knowing that it was quite impossible to continue his 
work, but his voice and movements were languid, his vitality 
seemed to be at a low ebb. This depression could be seen 
even in the listless way in which he would take up the tongs, 
and build fantastic pyramids with the glowing coals. 

It was a visible relief when the evening was over; sleep 
perhaps delivered him for a while from the importunities of 
thought ; but with the morning came the thought that another 
day must be lived through, and he counted the hours of con- 
sciousness as an exhausted traveler might reckon out the leagues 
of desert that lie between him and his journey's end. 

If Mme. Claes knew the causes of this weariness, she tried 
to shut her eyes to its effects ; she would not see the havoc 
that it wrought. But though she might steel herself against 
the sight of his mental distress, his kindness of heart left her 
helpless. When Balthazar listened to Jean's laughter or the 
girls' chatter, and seemed all the while to hear an inner 
thought more plainly than his children's voices, Mme. Claes 
did not dare to ask him what that thought was ; but when she 
saw him shake off his sadness, and try to seem cheerful, that 



92 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

he might not cast a gloom over others, his generosity made 
her falter in her purpose. His romps with little Jean and 
playful talk with the two little girls brought a flood of tears 
to poor Josephine's eyes, and she had to hurry from the room 
to hide her feelings ; her heroism was costing her dear, it was 
breaking her heart. There were times when Mme. Claes 
longed to say, " Kill me, and do as you like ! " 

Little by little the fire seemed to die out of Balthazar's 
eyes, and the dull bluish hues of age crept over them. Every- 
thing seemed to be done with an effort ; there was a dull 
hopelessness in the tones of his voice and in his manner even 
towards his wife. Towards the end of April things had grown 
so much worse that Mme. Claes took alarm. She had blamed 
herself bitterly and incessantly for having exacted this promise, 
while she admired the Flemish faith and loyalty with which it 
was kept. One day when Balthazar looked more depressed 
than ever, she hesitated no longer ; she would sacrifice every- 
thing if so he might live. 

"I give you back your word, dear," she said. 

Balthazar looked at her in amazement ; for the moment he 
could hardly comprehend her meaning. 

" You are thinking of your experiments, are you not ? " she 
went on. 

He answered with a terrible readiness, by a gesture, but 
Mme. Claes had no thought of reproach ; she had had time 
to sound the depths of the abyss into which they were both 
about to plunge together. She took his hand in hers and 
pressed it as she smiled at him. 

" Thank you, dearest," she said, " I am sure of my power ; 
you have given up what was dearer than life for my sake. Now 
it is my turn to give up. I have sold a good many of my 
diamonds, but there are some left, and with those that my 
brother gave me we could raise money enough for you to con- 
tinue your experiments. I thought I would keep the jewels 
for our two girls, but your fame will more than make up for 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 93 

the sparkling stones, and, besides, you will give them finer 
diamonds some day." 

The sudden flash of joy over her husband's face was like a 
death-knell to Josephine's last hopes, and she saw with anguish 
that his passion was stronger than himself. Claes had a belief 
which enabled him to walk without faltering in a path which 
in his wife's eyes led by the brink of a precipice. He had this 
faith to sustain him, but to her who had no faith fell the heavier 
share of the burden ; does not a woman always suffer for two ? 
At this moment she chose to believe in his success, seeking 
thus to excuse herself for her share in the certain wreck of 
their fortunes. 

"The love of my whole life would never repay your devo- 
tion, Pepita," said Claes, deeply moved. 

He had scarcely spoken the words before Marguerite and 
Felicie came into the room to wish their father and mother 
good-morning. Mme. Claes looked down ; for a moment she 
felt almost guilty before the two children; she felt that she 
had sacrificed their future to a wild delusion ; but her husband 
took them on his knees and talked and laughed with them, 
because the joy he felt craved expression. Thenceforth Mme. 
Claes shared in her husband's life of enthusiasm. Science 
itself and desire of fame was everything to Claes ; she not 
only sympathized with his aims, but all her hopes of her chil- 
dren's future were now bound up in his pursuits. Yet when 
her director the Abbe de Solis had sold her diamonds for her 
in Paris, when packages began to arrive from the firm of 
manufacturing chemists, all the unhappy wife's peace of mind 
deserted her. It was as if the restless malevolent spirit that 
possessed her husband tormented her also, and she lived in 
constant and disquieting expectation. It was she who now 
sometimes sat like one dead all day long in her low chair, 
unable to act or to think from the very vehemence of her 
wishes. Balthazar was at work the while in his laboratory, 
but she had no outlet for her energies ; the pent-up forces of 



94 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

her nature harassed her soul as doubts and fears. Sometimes 
she blamed herself for weakly humoring a passion which she 
felt convinced was hopeless; she would remember M. de 
Solis's censure, and rise from her chair and walk to the 
window, and look up at the laboratory chimney with dismay 
and dread. If a curl of smoke went up from it, she would 
watch it rise in despair, and conflicting ideas strove within her 
until her brain reeled. Her children's future was vanishing 
in that smoke, but she was saving their father's life. Was it 
not her first duty to make him happy? This last thought 
would bring peace for a little space. 

She had the freedom of the laboratory now, and might 
stay there as long as she pleased, but even this melancholy 
satisfaction had to be given up. It was too painful to see 
Balthazar so absorbed in his work that he did not even notice 
her presence ; sometimes, too, she felt that she was actually in 
the way; the pangs of jealousy became intolerable, every little 
unintentional neglect was a deadly wound, a wild desire would 
seize her that the house might be blown up, and so put an end to 
it all. She made a barometer, therefore, of old Le Mulquinier. 
When she heard him whistle as he came and went, or laid the 
table for breakfast and dinner, she augured that her husband's 
experiments had turned out well ; that there was some hope 
of success in the near future; but if Le Mulquinier was sad or 
sulky, she turned sad, wistful eyes on him : was Balthazar 
also depressed ? A sort of tacit understanding was established 
between them at last, in spite of the proud reserve of the mis- 
tress and the surly independence of the manservant. 

She had no resource in herself, no power of throwing off 
the thoughts that depressed her ; she experienced to the full 
every crisis of hope or despair ; the load of anxiety for the 
husband and the children that she loved weighed more and 
more heavily on the trembling wife and mother. She scarcely 
noticed how dreary the house was, or the silence and gloom 
that once had chilled her heart as she sat in the parlor all day 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 95 

long ; she had grown silent too, and forgot to smile. She 
brought up her two daughters to be good housewives ; with a 
mother's sad foresight, she tried to teach them various 
branches of womanly skill against the day when they might 
come face to face with poverty. But beneath the monotonous 
surface of existence the pulses of life beat painfully. By the 
end of the summer Balthazar had not only spent all the 
money which the old Abbe de Solis had raised by selling the 
diamonds in Paris, but he was in debt he owed some twenty 
thousand francs to Protez and Chiffreville. 

In August, 1813, about a year after the day of the opening 
scene of this story, Claes was no nearer the end in view, 
though he had made several interesting discoveries, for which, 
unluckily, he cared not at all. The day which saw his pro- 
gramme completely carried out found him overwhelmed with a 
sense of failure. The thought of the vast sums of money which 
had been spent, and all to no purpose, drove him to despair. 
It was a wretched ending to his hopes. He left his garret, 
came slowly down into the parlor where the children were, 
sank into one of the low chairs, and sat there for awhile like 
one dead, paying no heed to the questions with which his wife 
plied him. He escaped upstairs that he might have no wit- 
ness to his grief. Josephine followed him, and brought him 
into her room ; and there, alone with her, Balthazar gave way 
to his despair. In the man's tears, in the broken words that 
bore witness to the artist's discouragement, in the remorse of 
the father, there was something so wild and incoherent, so 
dreadful, so touching, that Mme. Claes, watching him, felt an 
anguish that she had never known before. The victim com- 
forted the executioner. 

When Balthazar said with horrible earnestness, " I am a 
scoundrel; I am risking our children's lives and yours; I 
ought to kill myself, it would be a good thing for you all," 
the words cut her to the heart. She knew her husband so 
well that she was in terror lest he should act at once on this 



96 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

horrible suggestion ; and one of those revulsions of feeling 
that stir life to its depths swept over her, a revulsion all the 
more dangerous because Pepita allowed no sign of agitation 
to appear, and tried to be calm and dispassionate. 

" This time I have not consulted Pierquin, dear," she said; 
" he may be friendly, but he would not be above feeling a 
secret satisfaction if we were ruined, so I have taken the 
advice of an old man who has a father's kindness for us. My 
confessor, the Abbe de Solis, suggested a way of averting 
ruin at any rate. He came to see your pictures ; and he thinks 
that if we sell those in the gallery we could pay off all the 
mortgages as well as your debts to Protez and Chiffreville, for 
I expect there is something owing to them." 

Claes bent his head as a sign of assent ; already his hair had 
grown white. 

" M. de Solis knows the Happes and the Dunckers of Am- 
sterdam," she went on; " they have a mania for buying pic- 
tures, their money was only made yesterday; and as they 
know that such works of art are only to be found in old family 
collections, they will only be too glad to give their full value 
for the paintings. Even when our estates are clear, there will 
still be something left over, for the pictures will bring in at 
least a hundred thousand ducats, and then you can go on with 
your work. We need very little, the two girls and I ; we will 
be very careful ; and in time we will save money enough to fill 
the empty frames again with other pictures, and in the mean- 
time you shall be happy." 

Balthazar raised his face to his wife's ; he felt half-doubtful, 
half-relieved. They had exchanged roles. The wife had be- 
come the protecting power ; and he, in spite of the sympathy 
of hearts between them, held Josephine in his arms, and did 
not feel that she was convulsed with anguish, did not see how 
the tresses of her hair were shaken by the throbbing of her 
heart, nor notice the nervous quivering of her lips. 

"I have not dared to tell you," he cried, "that I am 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 97 

scarcely separated from the Absolute by a hair's-breadth. I 
have only to discover a means of submitting metals to intense 
heat in a vessel where the pressure of the atmosphere is nil 
in short, in a perfect vacuum and I shall volatilize them." 

Mme. Claes almost broke down, the egoistic answer was 
too much for her. She had expected passionate gratitude for 
her devotion, and she received a problem in chemistry. She 
left her husband abruptly, went downstairs into the parlor, 
sank into her low chair again, and burst into tears. Her two 
daughters, Marguerite and Felicie, each took one of her hands 
in theirs, and knelt on either side of her, wondering at her 
grief. 

" What is it mother? " they asked her again and again. 

" Poor children ! I am dying ; I feel that I have not long 
to live." 

Marguerite shuddered as she looked at her mother's face, 
and for the first time noticed a ghastly pallor beneath the 
dark olive hue of the skin. 

" Martha ! Martha ! " called Felicie. " Come here, mamma 
wants you." 

The old waiting-woman came running from the kitchen. 
When she saw the livid color that had replaced the dusky 
brown-red tints in her mistress' face 

"Body of Christ!" she cried in Spanish, "madame is 
dying! " 

She hurried away to bid Josette heat soma water for a foot- 
bath for her mistress, and then returned. 

"Don't frighten the master, Martha; say nothing about 
it," said Mme. Claes. "Poor dear girls!" she added con- 
vulsively, clasping Marguerite and Felicie to her heart. " If 
I could only live long enough to see you both happy and 
married. Martha," she went on, " tell Le Mulquinier to go 
to M. de Solis and ask him to come to see me." 

The thunderbolt that struck down the mistress of the house 
naturally brought dismay in the kitchen. Josette and Martha, 
7 



98 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

old and devoted servants, were so deeply attached to Mme. 
Claes and her two daughters that the blow was as heavy as it 
was unexpected. The terrible words: ''Madame is dying, 
monsieur must have killed her ! Be quick and get ready a 
mustard bath ! " had drawn sundry ejaculations from Josette, 
who hurled them at Le Mulquinier. Le Mulquinier, calm and 
phlegmatic as ever, was eating his breakfast at a corner of the 
table, underneath one of the windows which looked out on 
the yard. The whole kitchen was as spick and span as the 
daintiest boudoir. 

"I knew how it would end," remarked Josette, looking 
straight at the valet as she spoke. She had climbed on to a 
stool to reach down a copper kettle which shone like burnished 
gold. " What mother could look on and see her children's 
father amusing himself by frittering away a fortune, like the 
master does, and everything flying away in smoke." 

Josette's countenance, framed in its frilled cap, was not un- 
like the round wooden nut-crackers that Germans carve ; she 
gave Le Mulquinier a sharp glance out of her little bloodshot 
eyes, which was almost venomous. For all answer the old 
valet gave a shrug worthy of a sorely-tried Mirabeau, and 
opened his cavernous mouth, but only to put a piece of bread 
and butter, accompanied by a morsel of red herring, into it. 

"If madame would let monsieur have some money," he 
said at length, " instead of bothering him, we should all be 
swimming in gold very soon ! There is not the thickness of 
a farthing between us and the " 

" Well, then, you, with your twenty thousand francs of 
savings, why don't you hand them over to the master? He 
is your master, and since you put such faith in his sayings and 
doings " 

" You know nothing about them, Josette. Just mind your 
pots and pans, and boil the water," said the Fleming, inter- 
rupting the cook. 

" I know what I know; I know that we once had several 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 99 

thousand ounces of silver plate here, and you have melted it 
down, you and your master between you ; and we shall very 
soon have only six halfpennies left out of five pence," sharply 
retorted Josette. 

" And the master," put in Martha, " will kill madame, and 
get rid of a wife who holds him back, and will not let him eat 
everything up. He is possessed, that is quite plain. You are 
risking your soul at the least, Le Mulquinier, if you have one, 
that is, for you are just like a block of ice, when all the rest 
of us are in such trouble. The young ladies are crying like 
Magdalens. Be quick and go for M. de Solis ! " 

" I have the master's orders to set the laboratory straight," 
said the valet. "It is too far from here to the Quartier 
d'Esquerchin. Go yourself." 

" Just listen to the brute ! " said Martha. " Who is to give 
madame her foot-bath ? Is she to be left to die, with the blood 
gone to her head? " 

"Mulquinier!" said Marguerite from the dining-room, 
which was next to the kitchen, "when you have left the 
message for M. de Solis, go and ask Dr. Pierquin to come at 
once." 

" Hein ! you will have to go! " said Josette. 

" Mademoiselle, monsieur told me to clear out the labora- 
tory," answered Le Mulquinier, turning triumphantly to the 
two women-servants. 

M. Claes came down the stairs at this moment, and Mar- 
guerite spoke to him. " Father, can you spare us Mulquinier 
to go on an errand into the town ? " 

"There, you miserable old heathen, you will have to go 
now ! ' ' said Martha, as she heard M. Claes answer in the 
affirmative. 

The lack of good-will and devotion to the family on the 
valet's part was a sore point ; the two women and Le Mulquinier 
were always bickering, and his indifference increased their 
loyal affection. This apparently paltry quarrel was to bring 



100 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

about great results in future days when the family stood in 
need of help in misfortune. 

Once more Balthazar became so absorbed that he did not 
notice how ill his wife was. He gave little Jean a ride on his 
knee, but his thoughts were all the while with the problem 
which he might hope once more to solve. He saw the water 
brought for his wife's foot-bath, for she had not strength to 
leave the parlor, or the low chair into which she had sunk. 
He watched the two girls as they busied themselves about their 
mother, and did not try to account for their anxiety and care 
of her. Mme. Claes laid her fingers on her lips if Marguerite 
or Jean seemed about to speak. A scene of this nature was 
certain to make a young girl think ; and Marguerite, standing 
between her father and mother, was old enough and sensible 
enough to understand what it meant. She realized that her 
father was most directly concerned in her mother's troubles. 

A time always comes in the history of every family when 
the children begin consciously or unconsciously to judge their 
parents. Mme. Claes felt that this critical time had come ; 
that the girl of sixteen, with her strong sense of justice, would 
see what would appear to her to be her father's faults very 
plainly, and Mme. Claes set herself to justify his conduct. 
The profound respect which she showed for him at this mo- 
ment, the way in which she effaced herself for fear of disturb- 
ing his meditations, left a deep impression on her children's 
minds ; they looked on their father with something like awe. 
But in spite of the infectious nature of this devotion, Mar- 
guerite could not help recognizing it, and her admiration in- 
creased for the mother to whom she was bound so closely by 
every incident of daily life. The young girl's affection had 
deepened ever since she had dimly divined her mother's 
troubles and had pondered over them ; no human power could 
have kept the knowledge of them from Marguerite ; a word 
heedlessly let fall by Josette or Martha had enlightened her 
as to their cause. In spite of Mme. Claes' reserve, her 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 101 

daughter had unraveled thread by thread the mystery of this 
household tragedy. 

In time to come Marguerite would be her mother's active 
helper and confidante, and, perhaps, in the end a formidable 
judge. Mme. Claes watched Marguerite anxiously, and tried 
to fill her heart with her own devotion ; she saw the young 
girl's firmness and sound judgment, and shuddered to 
think of possible strife between father and daughter when 
she should be no more, and Marguerite had taken her place. 
Poor woman ! she dreaded the consequences of her death far 
more than death itself. The resolution she had just taken had 
been prompted by forethought for Balthazar. By freeing her 
husband's estate from all liabilities, she left it independent, 
and forestalled all future disputes by separating his interests 
from those of her children ; she hoped to see him happy until 
her eyes were closed, and when that day came, Marguerite 
would be the guardian angel who watched over the family. 
She hoped to leave her tenderness in Marguerite's heart, and 
so, from beyond the grave, her love should still shine upon 
those so dear to her. Yet she shrank from lowering Claes in 
Marguerite's eyes, and would not impart her misgivings and 
fears until the inevitable moment came; she watched Mar- 
guerite more closely than ever, wondering whether of her own 
accord the young girl would be a mother to her brothers and 
sister, and a gentle and tender helpmeet to her father. 

So Mme. Claes' last days were embittered by fears and sad 
forebodings of which she could speak to no one. She felt 
that her deathblow had been dealt her in that last fatal scene, 
and her thoughts turned to the future ; while Balthazar, now 
totally unfitted for the cares of property and the interests of 
domestic life, thought of nothing but the Absolute. The 
deep silence in the parlor was only broken by the monotonous 
beating of Balthazar's foot ; he did not notice that little Jean 
had wearied of his ride, and climbed down from his father's 
knee. Marguerite, sitting beside her mother, looked at her 



102 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

white, sorrowful face, and then glanced from time to time at 
her father, and wondered why he showed no feeling. Pres- 
ently the street door shut to with a clang that echoed through 
the house, and the family saw the old Abbe de Solis slowly 
crossing the court leaning on his nephew's arm. 

" Oh ! here is M. Emmanuel," cried Felicie. 

"Good boy! " murmured Mme. Claes, as she saw Em- 
manuel de Solis ; " I am glad to see him again." 

Marguerite's face flushed at her mother's praise. Only two 
days ago the sight of the Abbe's nephew had stirred myste- 
rious feelings in her heart and awakened thoughts that had 
hitherto lain dormant. Only two days ago her mother's con- 
fessor had come to see the pictures in the gallery, and one of 
those small events that pass unheeded, and alter the whole 
course of a life, had then taken place ; for this reason a brief 
sketch of the two visitors must be given here. 

Mme. Claes made it a rule of conduct to perform the duties 
of her religion in private. Her director, who now entered 
the house for the second time, was scarcely known by sight to 
its inmates ; but it was impossible to see the uncle and nephew 
together without feeling touched and reverent, and their visit 
had left the same impression on every one. 

The Abbe de Solis was an old man of eighty, with silver 
hair ; all the ebbing life in the feeble, wasted face seemed to 
linger in the eyes. He walked with difficulty, for one of his 
shrunken legs terminated in a painfully deformed foot encased 
in a velvet wrapping, so that he always needed the support of 
a crutch or of his nephew's arm. Yet when you saw the bent 
figure and emaciated frame, you felt that an iron will sustained 
that fragile and suffering body, and that a pure and religious 
soul dwelt within it. The Spanish priest, distinguished for 
his vast learning, his knowledge of the world, and his sincere 
piety, had been successively a Dominican friar, cardinal-peni- 
tentiary of Toledo, and vicar-general of the archbishopric of 
Mechlin. The influence of the house of Casa-Real would 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 103 

have made him one of the highest dignitaries of the church ; 
but even if the French Revolution had not put an end to his 
ecclesiastical career, grief for the death of the young Duke, 
whose governor he had been, had led him to retire from active 
life, and to devote himself entirely to the education of a 
nephew, who had been left an orphan at a very early age. 

After the French conquest of the Netherlands he had set- 
tled in Douai to be near Mme. Claes. In his youth he had 
felt an enthusiastic reverence for Saint Theresa, and had 
always decided leanings towards the more mystical side of 
Christianity. There have always been Illuminists and 
Quietists in Flanders ; Mile. Bourignon made most of her 
converts among the Flemings; and the old Abb6 de Solis 
found a little flock of Catholics in Douai, who still clung, 
undeterred by papal censure, to the doctrines of Fenelon and 
Mme. Guyon, and was the more glad to stay among them 
because they looked on him as a father in the faith. His 
morals were austere, his life had been exemplary ; it was said 
that he had the gift of trance, and had seen visions. But the 
stern ascetic was not utterly divorced from the things of this 
life ; his affection for his nephew was a link that bound him to 
the world, and he was thrifty for Emmanuel's sake. He laid 
his flock under contribution for a work of charity before hav- 
ing recourse to his own purse ; and he was so widely known 
and respected for his disinterestedness, his perspicacity was so 
seldom at fault, that every one was ready to answer his 
appeals. To give some idea of the contrast between uncle 
and nephew, the older man might be compared to a hollow 
willow by the .waterside, and the younger to a briar-rose 
climbing about the old lichen-covered tree, and covering it 
with graceful garlands, which seem to support it. 

Emmanuel had been rigidly brought up. His uncle hardly 
allowed him to go out of his sight ; no damsel was ever more 
jealously guarded by her mother ; and Emmanuel was almost 
morbidly conscientious and innocently romantic. Souls that 



104 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

draw all their force from religion retain the bloom of youth 
that is rubbed off so soon, and the old priest had checked the 
development of pleasure-loving instincts in his pupil ; con- 
stant study and an almost monastic discipline had been his 
preparation for the battle of life. Such a bringing up, which 
launched Emmanuel into the world with all his youthful 
freshness of heart, might make his happiness if his affections 
were rightly placed at the outset, and had endowed him with 
an angelic purity which invested him with something of the 
charm of a young girl. The gentle eyes veiled a brave and 
fearless soul ; there was a light in them that thrilled other 
souls, as the sound given out by crystal vibrates on the ear. 
His face was eloquent, yet his features were regular ; no one 
could fail to be struck by their flawless delicacy of outline, 
and by the expression of repose which comes from inward 
peace. His fair complexion seemed still more brilliant by 
force of contrast with his dark eyes and hair. Everything 
about him was in harmony; his voice did not disappoint the 
expectations raised by so beautiful a face, and his almost 
feminine grace of movement and clear, soft gaze were in 
keeping with his voice. He did not seem to be aware that 
his half-melancholy reserve, his self-repression, his respectful 
and tender solicitude for his uncle, excited interest in him; 
but no one who had seen the two together the younger man 
carefully adapting himself to the old Abba's tottering gait, 
needfully looking ahead for the smoothest path, and avoiding 
any obstacle over which the elder might stumble, could fail to 
recognize in Emmanuel those generous qualities of heart and 
brain that make man so noble a creature. 

Emmanuel's real greatness showed itself in his love for his 
uncle, who could do no wrong in his eyes, to whom he 
rendered an unquestioning obedience ; some prophetic in- 
stinct, surely, had suggested the gracious name given to him 
at the font. If in private or abroad the old Abb exerted the 
stern and arbitrary authority of a Dominican father, Em- 



SHE TURNED, WITH A SWAN-LIKE MOVEMENT OF HER 
THROAT, TO GLANCE ONCE MORE AT EMMANUEL. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE, 105 

manuel would sometimes raise his head in such noble protest- 
with a gesture which seemed to say if another man had ven- 
tured to oppose him, he would have shown his spirit that 
gentle natures were touched by it, as painters are moved by 
the sight of a great work of art ; for a beautiful thought has 
the same power to stir our souls, whether it is revealed in a 
living human form, or made real for us by the power of art. 

Emmanuel had come with his uncle to see the pictures in 
the Maison Claes ; and Marguerite, having learned from Mar- 
tha that the Abbe de Solis was in the picture gallery, found 
some slight pretext for speaking to her mother, so that she 
might see the great man of whom she had heard so much. 
She had gone thither unthinkingly, hiding her little stratagem 
under the careless manner by which young girls so effec- 
tually conceal their real thoughts, and by the side of the old 
man dressed in black, with his deathly pallor and bent and 
stooping frame, she had seen Emmanuel's young and beautiful 
face. The two young creatures had gazed at each other with 
the same childlike wonder in their eyes; Emmanuel and Mar- 
guerite must surely have met each other before in their dreams. 
Their eyes fell at once, and met again with the same uncon- 
scious avowal. 

Marguerite took her mother's arm and spoke to her in a 
low voice to keep up the pretence of her errand ; and from 
under shelter of her mother's wing, as it were, she turned, 
with a swanlike movement of her throat, to glance once more 
at Emmanuel, who still stood supporting his uncle. 

The windows of the gallery had been distributed so that all 
the light should fall on the pictures, and the dimness of the 
shadows favored the stolen glsmces which are the delight of 
timid souls. Neither of them had, of course, advanced even 
in thought as far as the if with which passion begins ; but 
both of them felt that their hearts were stirred with a vague 
trouble which youth keeps to itself, shrinking perhaps from 
disclosing the secret, or wishing to linger over its sweetness. 



106 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

The first impression which calls forth the long-dormant emo- 
tion of youth is nearly always followed by a mute wonder 
such as children feel when, for the first time, they hear music. 
Some children laugh at first, and then grow thoughtful ; others 
listen gravely for a while, and then begin to laugh ; but there 
are souls who are destined to live for poetry or love, and they 
listen long, with a mute request to hear the music again ; their 
eyes are lighted up with pleasure, or with a dawning sense of 
wonder at the Infinite. If we are always bound with all the 
force of early association to the spot where we first understood 
the beauty and mystery of sound ; if we remember the musi- 
cian and even the instrument with delight, how can we help 
loving the other soul that for the first time reveals the music 
of life to us ? Does not the heart from which we draw our 
first breath of love become, as it were, our native country? 
Emmanuel and Marguerite were each for each that musical 
voice which awakens a sleeping sense ; it was as if a hand had 
withdrawn the veil of cloud and pointed out to them the 
distant shore bathed in a noonday blaze of light. 

When Mme. Claes made the Abbe pause for a moment be- 
fore the picture of an angel by Guido, Marguerite leaned 
forward a little to see what Emmanuel thought of it, and 
Emmanuel glanced at Marguerite, comparing the mute thought 
shadowed forth on the painter's canvas with the thought 
revealed in the girl who stood there in life before him. She 
felt and understood the unconscious and delicious flattery. 
The old Abbe gravely praised the beautiful composition, and 
Mme. Claes replied ; the young people were silent. 

The mysterious dusk of the gallery, the quiet that brooded 
over the house, the presence of their elders, all the circum- 
stances of their meeting, served to stamp it on the memory, 
and to deepen the vague outlines of a shadowy dream. All 
the confused thoughts that fell like rain in Marguerite's soul 
seemed to have spread themselves out like a wide, clear sea, 
which was lighted up by a ray of light when Emmanuel stam- 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 107 

mered out a few words as he took leave of Mrae. Claes. The 
young rich voice exerted a mysterious spell over her heart ; 
the revelation was complete ; it only rested with Emmanuel 
whether it should bear fruit for him ; for the man who first 
awakens love in a girl's heart is often an unconscious instru- 
ment of fate, and leaves his work unfinished. Marguerite 
bowed in confusion ; her good-bye was a glance that seemed 
to express her regret at losing this pure and charming vision. 
Like the child, she wanted to hear her music once again. 

The leave-taking took place at the foot of the old staircase, 
before the parlor door, and from the parlor window she 
watched the uncle and nephew cross the court, and followed 
them with her eyes until the street door closed on them. 
Mme. Claes had been so deeply engrossed with the weighty 
matters which her director had come to discuss, that she had 
not thought of watching her daughter's face ; and on the 
occasion of this second visit she was again full of such terrible 
trouble that she did not see in the red flush on Marguerite's 
face the indications of happiness and the workings of a girlish 
heart. 

By the time the old Abbe was announced Marguerite had 
taken up her work again, and apparently found it so interest- 
ing that she greeted the uncle and nephew without raising 
her eyes from it. M. Claes returned the Abbe de Solis' bow 
mechanically, and left the parlor as if his presence were 
demanded elsewhere. The venerable Dominican seated him- 
self beside Mme. Claes with one of those keen glances by 
which he seemed to read the depths of souls ; he had scarcely 
seen M. Claes and his wife before he guessed that some catas- 
trophe had taken place. 

" Go into the garden, children," said the mother. " Mar- 
guerite, take Emmanuel to see your father's tulips." 

Marguerite, somewhat embarrassed, took Felicie's hand in 
hers and looked towards the visitor, who reddened and fol- 
lowed her out of the parlor, catching up little Jean to keep 



108 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

himself in countenance. When all four of them were out in 
the garden, Jean and Felicie scampered off, and Marguerite, 
left alone with young M. de Solis, went towards the bed of 
tulips which Le Mulquinier always planted out in the same 
way, year after year. 

"Are you fond of tulips?" Marguerite asked, as Em- 
manuel seemed unwilling to break the silence. 

"They are magnificent, mademoiselle; but a love of tulips 
is an acquired taste. The flowers dazzle me ; I expect that it 
is because I am so used to working in my dark little room 
beside my uncle ; I like softer colors better." 

He looked at Marquerite as he uttered these last words ; but 
in that glance, full of confused longings, there was no sug- 
gestion that the quiet face before him, with its white velvet 
surface and soft color, was like a flower. 

" Do you work very hard ?" Marguerite asked Emmanuel 
as they went towards a green-painted garden seat. " You will 
not be so close to the tulips here," she added ; "they will 
not be so tiring to your eyes. You are right, the colors are 
dazzling ; they make one's eyes ache." 

" Yes, I work hard," the young man answered after a short 
pause, spent in smoothing the gravel on the path with his 
foot. " I work at all sorts of things. My uncle intended to 
make a priest of me " 

" Oh ! " Marguerite exclaimed naively. 

" I objected ; I felt that I had no vocation. But it took a 
great deal of courage to cross my uncle's wishes. He is so 
kind and so very fond of me. Quite lately he paid for a 
substitute to save me from the conscription, and I am only a 
poor orphan nephew " 

" Then what do you mean to do? " asked Marguerite, with 
a sudden gesture, which seemed as if she would fain take the 
words back again, for she added 

"Pardon me, monsieur; you must think me very in- 
quisitive." 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 109 

" Oh ! mademoiselle, nobody but my uncle has ever asked 
me the question," said Emmanuel, looking at her admiringly 
and gratefully. "I am to be a schoolmaster. There is no 
help for it ; I am not rich, you see. If I can obtain a head- 
mastership in some school in Flanders, I shall have enough to 
live upon. I shall marry some woman who will be content 
with very little, and whom I shall love. That is the sort of 
life that is in prospect for me. Perhaps that is why I would 
rather have a moon-daisy from the fields about Orchies, a flower 
that no one looks at, than these glowing tulips, all purple and 
golden and emerald and sapphire. The tulips seem to me a 
sort of symbol of a brilliant and luxurious life, just as the 
moon-daisy is like a quiet, old-fashioned life, a poor school- 
master's life such as mine will be." 

" Until now, I have always called the moon-daisies mar- 
guerites," said she. 

Emmanuel de Solis flushed up to the eyes ; he racked his 
brains for an answer, and tormented the gravel with his boots. 
So many things occurred to him, and were rejected as silly, 
that the pause grew embarrassing, and he was forced to say 

something. "I did not venture to pronounce your name ' ' 

he said at last, and got no further. 

"A schoolmaster ! " she went on. 

" Oh ! I shall be a schoolmaster for the sake of a secure posi- 
tion, mademoiselle, but I want to do other things as well, 

something great that wants doing. 1 should like some bit 

of historical research best." 

"Oh!" 

That "Oh," which seemed to cover the speaker's private 
reflections, added to the young man's embarrassment. He 
began to laugh foolishly, and said 

" You are making me talk about my own affairs, made- 
moiselle, when I should speak to you of yourself." 

"I think my mother and your uncle must have finished 
their talk," she said, looking at the parlor windows. 



110 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

" Your mother looked very much altered, I thought." 

" She is in trouble, and says nothing to us about her 
troubles, and we can only feel sorry for her, that is all we 
can do." 

As a matter of fact, Mme. Claes had just consulted the 
Abbe de Solis on a difficult case of conscience, which he alone 
could resolve. Ruin was clearly impending; and now that 
the pictures were about to be sold, she thought of keeping 
back a large part of the purchase money as a sort of reserve 
fund to secure her children against want. Balthazar took so 
little heed of his affairs that it would be easy to do this with- 
out his knowledge. After mature deliberation, and after 
taking all the facts of the case into consideration, the old 
Dominican had given his sanction to this prudent course. 
The conduct of the sale devolved on him, and the whole 
matter was arranged privately for fear of injuring M. Claes' 
credit. 

The old Abb6 sent his nephew to Amsterdam duly armed 
with letters of introduction ; and the young man, delighted to 
have this opportunity of doing a service to the house of Claes, 
succeeded in selling the collection in the picture gallery to the 
celebrated bankers, Happe and Duncker, ostensibly for the 
sum of eighty thousand Dutch ducats, but fifteen thousand 
ducats were to be paid secretly over and above this amount to 
Mme. Claes. The pictures were so well known that a single 
letter from Balthazar accepting the proposals made by Mes- 
sieurs Happe and Duncker completed the bargain. Emmanuel 
de Solis was commissioned to receive the price of the pictures, 
which he remitted by other than the ordinary channels, so 
that Douai might know nothing of the transaction which had 
just taken place. 

By the end of September, Balthazar had paid his debts, 
cleared his liabilities, and was at work once more ; but the 
glory of the Maison Claes had departed. Yet Balthazar was 
so blinded by his passion that he seemed to feel no regrets ; 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. Ill 

he was so confident that he could retrieve all his losses in a 
little while, that he had reserved the right to repurchase his 
pictures. And as for Josephine, in her eyes the paintings 
were as nothing compared with the happiness of her husband 
and children ; she filled the blank spaces in the gallery with 
pictures from the state apartments, and rearranged the furni- 
ture in the rooms where the family sat, so that the empty 
spaces on the walls should not be noticed. 

Balthazar had about two hundred thousand francs with 
which to begin his experiments afresh, his debts were all paid, 
and M. de Solis and his nephew became trustees for Mme. 
Claes' reserve fund, which was swelled somewhat further, for 
gold was at a premium in those days of European wars, and 
the Abbe de Solis sold the ducats, receiving for them sixty-six 
thousand francs in crowns, which were stored away in the 
Abbe's cellar. 

For eight months Mme. Claes had the sad satisfaction of 
seeing her husband entirely engrossed in his work ; but she 
never recovered from the shock received that August after- 
noon, and fellinto a decline, from which there was no recov- 
ery. Science had Balthazar in its clutches ; the disasters that 
befell the armies of France, the first fall of Napoleon, the 
return of the exiled Bourbons, all the events of those eventful 
years could not draw his attention from his studies ; he was no 
longer a citizen, as he had ceased to be a husband and a father. 
He was a chemist. 

Towards the end of the year 1814 the wasting disease that 
had attacked Mme. Claes had made such progress that she 
could not leave her bed. She would not drag out this 
slow death in her own room where she had lived in her happier 
days, it was too full of memories, and she could not help 
drawing comparisons between the present and the past, which 
overwhelmed her with despair, so she lay downstairs in the 
parlor. The doctors had humored the desire of her heart, 
pronouncing the room to be more airy, cheerful, and conven- 



112 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

ient than her own apartment ; her bed had been placed 
between the chimney-piece and the window, so that she could 
look out into the garden. The last days of her life were spent 
in perfecting her work on earth, implanting in her daughters' 
hearts the passionate devotion of her own. She could no 
longer show her love for her husband, but she was free to 
lavish her affection on her daughters, and the charm of this 
life of close communion between mother and daughters was 
all the sweeter because it had begun so late. 

The little scruples of a too sensitive affection weighed upon 
her, as upon all generous natures, like remorse. Her children 
had not always known, she thought, the love which was their 
due, and she tried to atone for all these imaginary wrongs ; 
they felt her exquisite tenderness in her constant thought and 
care for them. She would fain have sheltered them in her 
heart, and nestled them beneath her failing wings, given them 
in one day the love that they should have had in those days 
when she had neglected them. Her soul was full of remorse, 
which gave a fervent warmth to her words and caresses ; her 
eyes dwelt fondly on her children before the kind tones of 
her voice thrilled their hearts ; her hand seemed always to be 
stretched out in benediction. 

The hospitality of the Maison Claes had come to an end 
after the first splendid effort ; Balthazar never gave another 
ball on the anniversary of his marriage, and saw no visitors ; 
the house was quieter than ever, but this occasioned no sur- 
prise in Douai, for Mme. Claes' illness was a sufficient reason 
in itself for the change. The debts had been paid, and this 
had put a stop to gossip, and during the foreign occupation 
of Flanders and the war of the Hundred Days the chemist 
was completely forgotten. For two years Douai was almost 
in a state of siege, occupied in turn by French troops or 
foreign soldiers ; it became a city of refuge for all nationali- 
ties and for peasants obliged to fly from the open country ; 
people lived in fear for their property, and even in terror of 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 113 

their lives, and in such a time of calamity and anxiety no one 
had a thought to spare for others. The Abbe de Solis and 
his nephew, and the two Pierquins, were Mme. Claes' only 
visitors. 

The winter of 1814-1815 was a long and most painful 
agony for her. Her husband seldom came to see her. He 
sat with her after dinner, it is true, for a few hours; but she 
had not sufficient strength now to keep up a long conversa- 
tion ; and when he had repeated two or three remarks, which 
he never varied, he sat beside her without speaking, and the 
dismal silence in the parlor was unbroken. The only breaks 
in this dreary monotony were the evenings when the Abbe de 
Solis and his nephew came to the Maison Claes. The old 
Abbe played backgammon with Balthazar ; while Marguerite, 
seated at her mother's bedside, talked with Emmanuel. Mme. 
Claes smiled on their innocent happiness, and would not let 
them see how sweet and how painful it was to her aching heart 
to feel the fresh breath of the dawn of love in the words that 
they let fall. The tones of the two young voices, so full of 
charm for the lovers, almost broke her heart ; she surprised a 
glance of comprehension exchanged between them, and mem- 
ories of her youth and the happy past brought her thoughts 
to the present, and she felt all its bitterness to the full as she 
lay there like one already dead. Emmanuel and Marguerite 
instinctively divined her sufferings, and delicacy of feeling led 
them to check the sweet playfulness of love lest it should add 
to her pain. 

No one as yet seems to have discovered that our sentiments 
have a life of their own, and take their character from the 
circumstances which gave them birth ; the places in which they 
gathered strength, the thoughts that filled our minds at the 
time, influence their development and leave their impress upon 
them. There is a love like that of Mme. Claes, passionate in 
its beginnings, and passionate to the end ; there is a love, on 
which everything else smiles from the outset, that never loses 



114 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

the glad freshness of its morning, and reaps its harvest of 
happiness amid laughter and rejoicing ; but there is also a love 
early enveloped in sadness or surrounded by misfortune, its 
pleasures are painful and dearly-bought, snatched amid fears, 
embittered by remorse, or clogged with despair. This love in 
the depths of their hearts, which neither Marguerite nor 
Emmanuel recognized as yet, this feeling that had been 
awakened in a moment of stillness and silence beneath the 
dusky roof of the picture gallery, in the presence of the austere 
old Abbe, was tinged with something of the sober twilight 
hues of its earliest surroundings ; it was grave and reticent, 
but full of subtle shades of sweetness, and furtive joys over 
which they lingered in secret as over stolen grapes snatched 
in some vineyard nook. 

Beside this bed of pain they never dared to give expression 
to their thoughts, and all unconsciously their emotion gathered 
strength because it was repressed in the depths of their hearts, 
and only revealed itself in their care for the invalid. It 
seemed to Emmanuel that this drew them more closely to- 
gether, and that he was already a son to Marguerite's mother; 
though instead of the sweet language of lovers he received 
only sad, grateful thanks from Marguerite. Their sighs of 
happiness as they exchanged glances were scarcely distinguish- 
able from the sighs drawn from them by the sight of the 
mother's suffering ; their brief moments of felicity, implied 
confessions, and unspoken promises, moments when their 
hearts went out towards each other, stood out, like the " Alle- 
gories" painted by Raphael, against a dark background. 
Each felt a trust and confidence in the other though no words 
had been said; they felt that the sun still shone, though 
heavy dark clouds had gathered overhead, and they knew not 
what wind would scatter them ; the future seemed doubtful, 
perhaps trouble would dog them all their lives, so they sat 
timidly among the gloomy shadows without daring to ask, 
" Shall we finish the day together? " 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 115 

Yet, beneath the tenderness that Mme. Claes showed for 
her children, there lay concealed other thoughts to which she 
nobly refused to listen. Her children never caused her appre- 
hensions and terror ; they were her comfort, but they were not 
her life ; she lived for them, but she was dying for Balthazar. 
Painful though it might be for her to have her husband by her 
side, absent in thought for whole hours, to receive an unseeing 
glance from time to time, yet she was unconscious of her suf- 
fering so long as he was with her. Balthazar's indifference to 
his dying wife would have seemed unpardonable to any stranger 
who chanced to witness it, but Mme. Claes and her daughters 
were so used to it, and understood him so well, that they for- 
gave him. 

If Mine. Claes had some dangerous seizure in the course of 
the day, if she felt worse or seemed to be at the point of death, 
Claes was the one person in the house, or indeed in the whole 
town, who did not know that the wife who had once been so 
passionately loved was in danger. Le Mulquinier knew it, but 
Felicie and Marguerite had been forbidden by their mother 
to speak to Claes of her illness. 

Mme. Claes was happy when she heard his footsteps in the 
picture gallery as he crossed it on his way to dinner ; she was 
about to see him, she summoned all her strength to meet the 
coming joy. The color rushed to the pale face of the dying 
woman as he entered, she almost looked as she had been wont 
to do in health ; the man of science came to her bedside and 
took her hand in his, and never saw her as she really was : for 
him alone she was always well. In reply to his, " How are 
you to-day, dear wife ? " she would answer, " Better, dear ! " 
and he in his preoccupied mood readily believed her when she 
spoke of getting up again, of being quite well to-morrow. He 
was so abstracted that he never saw that there was anything 
seriously wrong with his wife, and thought the disease of which 
she was dying was some passing ailment. Every one else knew 
that she was dying, but for him she was full of life. 



116 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

This year saw the husband and wife completely severed. 
Claes slept in a distant room, lived in his laboratory or study 
from morning to night, and never saw Pepita save in the 
presence of his daughters and the few friends of the house 
who came to visit her. He had learned to do without her. 
The two who had once shared every thought drifted farther 
and farther apart ; the moments of close communion, of rap- 
ture, of expansion, which are the life of the heart, came sel- 
dom and more seldom, and the rare moments of bliss ceased 
altogether. If physical suffering had not come to her aid and 
filled up the empty days, the anguish of her isolation might 
have killed Josephine, but she was dying. She was sometimes 
in such terrible pain that she was glad that he, whom she 
never ceased to love, was not there to be a witness of her suf- 
ferings. And for the part of the evening that Balthazar spent 
with her, she lay watching him, feeling that he was happy after 
his fashion, and this happiness which she had procured for 
him she made her own. This meagre satisfaction must suffice 
for her now; she no longer asked if she was beloved; she 
strove to believe it, and went softly, fearing that this thin 
sheet of ice should give way and her heart and all her hopes 
should be drowned in the dark depths that yawned beneath. 

Nothing ever happened to break the monotony of the day ; 
the disease that wasted Mme. Claes' strength perhaps con- 
tributed to the apparent peace, for her affection could only 
play a passive part, and weakness made it easier to wait and 
endure patiently. The year 1816 opened under these gloomy 
conditions. 

In the last days of February came the sudden shock which 
brought the angelic woman, who, so the Abbe de Solis said, 
was almost sinless, to the grave. The blow came from 
Pierquin. 

He watched for an opportunity when the two girls were 
sufficiently far away to whisper in her ear, " Madame, M. 
Claes has commissioned me to borrow three hundred thousand 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 117 

francs on his estates ; you must take measures to secure your 
children's property." 

Mme. Claes clasped her hands and raised her eyes. She 
thanked the notary by a kindly inclination of the head and 
by a sad smile, which touched Pierquin. The words were like 
the stab of a knife ; they killed Pepita. The rest of the day 
she spent with the painful thoughts that swelled her heart ; 
she felt like some traveler who has walked steadily and bravely 
along the dizzy brink of a precipice, till some pebble slips 
from under his feet, and, losing his balance, he at last falls 
headlong into the depths. As soon as the notary left the 
house, Mme. Claes asked Marguerite for writing materials, 
and summoned all her strength to write her final directions 
and requests. Many times she stopped and looked up at Mar- 
guerite ; the time for making her a confidant had come. 

Marguerite had taken her mother's place as head of the 
household during this illness, and had more than realized the 
dying woman's hopes of her. Mme. Claes feared no longer 
for the family she was leaving under the care of this strong 
and loving guardian angel ; she should still live on in Mar- 
guerite. Both the women doubtless felt that there were sad 
secrets to be told ; whenever the mother glanced at Marguerite, 
the girl looked up at once, and the eyes of both were full of 
tears. Several times, as Mme. Claes laid down the pen, 
Marguerite had begun, "Mother?" and had broken off 
because her voice failed her ; and her mother, absorbed in her 
last thoughts, did not hear her entreaty. At last the letter 
was finished ; and Marguerite, who had held the taper while 
it was sealed, turned away to avoid seeing the direction. 

" You can read it, my child ! " the dying woman said, with 
a heartrending tone in her voice. 

Marguerite watched her mother's fingers as she wrote, 
" For my daughter Marguerite." 

" I will rest now," she added, putting the letter under her 
pillow, " and then we will talk." 



118 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

She fell back on her pillows as if exhausted by the effort 
she had just made, and slept for several hours. When she 
awoke, all her children were kneeling around her in fervent 
prayer. It was a Thursday ; Gabriel and Jean had just come 
home from school ; Emmanuel de Solis who for the past six 
months had been one of the masters there, teaching history 
and philosophy had come with them. 

" Dear children, we must bid each other farewell," she 

cried. " You are all with me to the last, and he " She 

did not finish the sentence. 

" M. Emmanuel," said Marguerite, who saw the deathly 
pallor of her mother's face, " will you tell our father that 
mamma is much worse ? " 

Young de Solis went up to the laboratory, and through Le 
Mulquinier's good offices saw Balthazar for a moment ; the 
chemist heard the young man's urgent entreaties, and an- 
swered, " I am coming." 

"My friend," Mme. Claes said when Emmanuel returned 
from this errand, " will you take my two boys away, and ask 
your uncle to come to me ? I must take the last sacraments 
I think, and I should like to receive them from his hand." 

When she was left once more with the two girls she made a 
sign which Marguerite understood. Felicie was sent away, 
and the mother and daughter were alone. 

"I had something to say to you, mamma dear," said 
Marguerite, who did not realize how ill her mother was, and 
knew nothing of the shock which Pierquin's ill-advised revela- 
tion had given her. " I have been without money for house- 
keeping expenses these ten days past, and the servants' wages 
have not been paid for six months. I have twice made up my 
mind to ask papa for the money, and both times my courage 
failed. You do not know what has happened. All the wine 
in the cellar and the pictures in the gallery have been sold 



" He has not said a word about it to me ! " cried Mme. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 119 

Claes. " God is taking me to Himself in time, but, oh ! my 
poor children, what will become of you? " 

She spent a few moments in fervent prayer; remorse seemed 
to glow in her eyes. 

"Marguerite," she went on, drawing the sealed envelope 
from its hiding-place, " if, when I am dead, you should ever be 
brought to misery, that is to say, if you should want bread, 
then open this letter and read it. Marguerite dear, love your 
father, but take care of your sister and brothers. In a few 
days, perhaps in a few hours, you will be the head of the 
house ! Be very careful ; and, Marguerite, it may very likely 
happen that you will have to oppose your father's wishes; for 
he has spent large sums already on this effort to learn a secret 
which, if discovered, will make him famous and bring him 
enormous wealth, and he is sure to want money again ; per- 
haps he will ask you for money ; and then, while you must 
remember that you are the sole guardian of those whose in- 
terests are committed to your care, you must never forget 
what is due to your father, to a great man who is spending 
himself, his wealth, and his whole life in a task which will 
make his family illustrious, and you must give him all a 
daughter's tenderness. He would never wrong his children 
intentionally ; he has such a noble heart ; he is so good, so 
full of love for you ; you, who are left, will see him a kind 
and affectionate father once more. These things must be 
said, Marguerite, now that I am on the brink of the grave. 
Promise me, my child, that you will fill my place, if you 
would make it easier for me to die ; promise that you will 
never add to your father's troubles by a single reproach, that 
you will never judge him harshly ! In short, you must be a 
gentle and indulgent mediator until your task is finished, until 
your father once more takes his place as head of the family." 

"I understand, dearest mother," said Marguerite, as she 
kissed the dying woman's red eyelids. "I will do as you 
wish." 



120 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

"And you must not marry, darling, until Gabriel is old 
enough to take your place," Mme. Claes went on. " If you 
were married, your husband very likely would not share your 
feelings ; he might make trouble in the family, and harass 
your father." 

Marguerite looked into her mother's eyes and said, " Have 
you no other counsels to give me with regard to my marriage ?" 

"Do you hesitate, dear child?" asked the dying mother 
in alarm. 

" No," she answered ; " I promise to obey you." 

' ' Poor child ! ' ' said her mother, as she shed hot tears, 
" I could not bring myself to sacrifice myself for you, and 
now I am asking you to sacrifice yourself for them all. Hap- 
piness makes us selfish. Yes, Marguerite, I was weak, because 
I was happy. You must be strong ; you must think for the 
rest, and so act that your brothers and your sister shall never 
reproach me. Love your father, and do not thwart him more 
than you can help." 

" Her head fell back on the pillow, her strength had failed 
her, she could not say another word. The struggle between 
the wife and the mother had exhausted her. A few moments 
later the Abbe de Solis and his assistants entered the parlor, 
and the servants crowded in. The Abbe's presence recalled 
Mme. Claes to herself, and as the rite began she looked about 
her, seeking Balthazar among the faces about her bed. 

"Where is the master?" she asked in a piteous tone, 
which sent a thrill of horror through those assembled ; her 
whole life and death seemed to be summed up in that cry. 
Martha hurried from the room, and, old as she was, ran up to 
the laboratory, and knocked loudly at the door. 

" Monsieur," she cried, in angry indignation, " madame is 
dying ! They are going to administer the sacraments, and 
are waiting for you." 

"I am coming down directly," said Balthazar. 

Le Mulquinier appeared a moment later, and said that his 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 121 

master was about to follow. Mme. Claes never took her eyes 
from the door all through the ceremony, but it was over before 
Balthazar came. The Abbe de Solis and the children were 
standing beside the bed, a flush came over the dying woman's 
face at the sight of her husband, the tears rolled down her 
cheeks. 

" Were you on the point of decomposing nitrogen?' 1 she 
asked with angelic sweetness, that sent a thrill through those 
about her. 

" I have done it ! " he cried triumphantly. "Nitrogen is 
partly composed of oxygen, partly of some imponderable sub- 
stance which to all appearance is the essential principle 
of " 

He suddenly stopped, interrupted by a murmur of horror, 
which brought him to his senses. 

" What was it that they told me ? " he began. " Are you 
really worse ? What has happened ? ' ' 

" This," said the Abbe de Solis indignantly in Balthazar's 
ear, "this your wife is dying, and you have killed her!" 
and without waiting for an answer, the Abbe took Emmanuel's 
arm and left the room, the children went with him across the 
courtyard. Balthazar stood for a while as if thunderstruck ; 
he gazed at his wife with tears in his eyes. 

"You are dying, and I have killed you?" he cried. 
" What does he mean? " 

" Dear," she answered, " your love was my life, and when 
all unconsciously you ceased to love me, my life ceased too." 

The children had come back again ; Claes sent them away, 
and sat down by his wife's pillow. " Have I ever ceased to 
love you for one single moment?" he asked, taking her 
hand, and pressing it to his lips. 

" I have no reproaches to make, dearest. You have made 
me very happy, too happy indeed ; for the contrast between 
the early days of our marriage, which were so full of joy, and 
these last years, when you have no longer been yourself, and 



122 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

the days have been so empty, has been more than I could 
bear. Our inner life, like our physical life, has its vital 
springs. For the past six years you have been dead to love, 
to your family, to all that makes the happiness of life. I am 
not thinking of the joy and bliss which are the appanage of 
youth, and must cease with youth, but which leaves behind 
them the fruits on which the soul lives afterwards, an 
unbounded confidence and sweet established uses ; you have 
deprived me of all these solaces of the after-time. Ah ! 
well, it is time for me to go ; this is not a life together in any 
sense ; you have hidden your thoughts and your actions from 
me. How can you have come to feel afraid of me ? Have I 
ever reproached you by gesture, or word, or deed ! Well, 
and you have sold your remaining pictures, you have even 
sold the wine in the cellar, and you have begun to borrow 
money again on your property, without a word of all this to 
me ! Oh, I am about to take leave of life, and I am sick of 
life ? If you make mistakes, if in striving after the impossible 
you lose sight of everything else, have I not shown that there 
was enough love in my heart to find it sweet to share your 
errors, to be always by your side, even, if need be, in the 
paths of crime? You have loved me only too well, therein 
lies my glory and my misery. This illness began long ago, 
Balthazar ; it dates from the day when you first made it clear 
to me, here in this room where I am about to die, that the 
claims of science were stronger than family ties. And now 
your wife is dying, and you have run through your fortune. 
Your fortune and your wife were your own to dispose of; but 
when I shall be no more, all my property will pass to your 
children, and you will not be able to touch it. What will be- 
come of you ? I must tell you the truth, and dying eyes see 
far. Now that I am going, what will counter-balance this 
accursed passion, which is as strong in you as life itself? If I 
have been sacrificed to it, your children will count for very 
little; for, in justice to you, I must allow that I came first 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 123 

with you. Two millions and six years of toil have been 
thrown into that bottomless pit, and you have discovered 
nothing " 

Claes' white head sank ; he hid his face with his hand. 

"You will discover nothing but shame for yourself and 
misery for your children," continued the dying woman. 
"Already they call you 'Claes the alchemist;' a little later, 
and it will be ' Claes the madman ! ' As for me, I believe in 
you ; I know how great and learned you are ; I know that 
you have genius, but ordinary minds draw no distinction 
between genius and madness. Glory is the sun of the dead ; 
yours will be the fate of all greatness here on earth ; you will 
know no happiness as long as you live. I am going now ; I 
have had no joy of your fame, which would have consoled 
me for my lost happiness ; and so, to sweeten the bitterness 
of death, let me feel certain that my children's bread is secure, 
my dear Balthazar. Nothing can give me peace of mind, 
not even your " 

"I swear," said Claes, "to " 

" No, dear, do not swear, lest you should fail to keep your 
word," she said, interrupting him. "It was your duty to 
protect us, and for nearly seven years you have failed to do 
so. Science is your life. Great men should have neither 
wife nor children ; they should tread the paths of misery 
alone ; their virtues are not those of commonplace people"; 
such men as you belong to the whole world, not to one woman 
and a single family. You are like those great trees which 
exhaust the soil round about them, and I am the poor field- 
plant beside it that can never rear its head so high ; I must 
die before half your life is spent. I have waited till my last 
hour to tell you these horrible truths, which have been re- 
vealed to me in anguish and despair. Have pity on our chil- 
dren ! Again and again, until my last sigh, I entreat you to 
have pity on our children, that so my words may find an echo 
in your heart. This wife of yours is dying, you see. Slowly 



124 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

and gradually she has starved for lack of affection and happi- 
ness. Alas ! but for the cruel kindness which you have invol- 
untarily shown me, could I have lived so long ? But the poor 
children ! They have never failed me ; they have grown 
with the growth of my sorrows, and the mother has outlived 
the wife. Have pity, have pity on our children ! " 

" Le Mulquinier ! " Balthazar thundered. 

The old servant hurried into the room. 

" Go up and break everything to pieces, all the machinery, 
and everything else. Be careful how you do it, but do it 
thoroughly ! I will have nothing more to do with science ! " 
he said, turning to his wife. 

"It is too late," she said, with a glance atLe Mulquinier. 
" Marguerite !" she moaned, feeling that death was near. 
Marguerite stood in the doorway, and gave a sharp cry as she 
met her mother's eyes and saw the ghastly pallor of her face. 

"Marguerite!" the dying woman cried again. This last 
word she ever spoke, uttered with a wild vehemence, seemed 
like a solemn summons to her daughter to take her place. 

The rest of the family hurried in alarm to the bedside, in 
time to see her die. Mme. Claes' life had ebbed away in the 
final effort she had made. Balthazar and Marguerite sat mo- 
tionless, she at the head and he at the foot of the bed. The 
two who had best known her goodness and inexhaustible kind- 
ness could not believe that she was really dead. The glance 
exchanged between father and daughter was freighted with 
many thoughts; she judged her father, and her father trem- 
bled already lest his daughter should be the instrument of 
vengeance. Memories crowded upon him, memories of the 
love that had filled his life, and of her whose last words 
seemed to carry an almost sacred authority which had so 
stamped them on his soul that it seemed as if he must forever 
hear them ringing in his ears ; but Balthazar mistrusted him- 
self, he doubted whether he could resist the spirit which 
possessed him, he felt that the impulses of remorse had grown 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 125 

weaker already at the first menaces of a return of his passion, 
and he was afraid of himself. 

When Mme. Ciaes was gone, every one felt that she had 
been the life and soul of the Maison Claes, and that now that 
soul was no more. And the house itself, where her loss was 
felt to the full, the parlor where the noble Josephine still 
seemed to live was kept shut ; nobody had the heart to enter it. 

Society does not feel called upon to practice the virtues 
which it preaches to individuals; it offends hourly (though 
only in words) against its own canons ; a jest prepares the way 
for base actions, a jest brings down anything beautiful or lofty 
to the ordinary level. If a son sheds too many tears for his 
father's loss, he is ridiculous; if too few, he is held up to 
execration ; and then society, having said its say, diverts itself 
by weighing the dead, scarcely yet cold, in its balance. 

On the evening of the day when Mme. Claes died her 
friends discussed her over their whist, dropped flowers on her 
tomb in a pause while the cards were dealing, and paid their 
tribute to her noble character while sorting hearts and spades. 

Then, after the usual lugubrious commonplaces, which are 
a kind of preliminary vocal exercise in social lamentation, 
and which are uttered with the same intonations and exactly 
the same amount of feeling all over France at every hour of 
the day, the whole chorus proceeded to calculate the amount 
of Mme. Claes' property. 

Pierquin opened the discussion by pointing out that the 
lamented lady's husband had made her life so wretched that 
death was a happy release for her, and that it was a still greater 
blessing for her children. She would never have had suffi- 
cient firmness to oppose the wishes of the husband whom she 
adored, but now her fortune had passed out of Claes' hands. 
One and all began forthwith to reckon the probable amount 
of poor Mme. Claes' fortune, to calculate her savings (had 
she, or had she not, managed to put anything by?), and made 
out inventories of her jewels, and ransacked her drawers and 



126 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

her wardrobe, while her bereaved family were yet kneeling in 
prayer and tears by her bed of death. 

With the experienced eye of a sworn valuer, Pierquin took 
in the situation at a glance. He was of the opinion that 
all Mme. Claes' property might be " got together again" 
(to use his own expression), and should amount to something 
like fifteen hundred thousand francs. A large part of this 
was represented by the forests of Waignies ; that property had 
risen enormously in value in the last twelve years, and he made 
a rapid computation of the probable value of the trees of all 
ages from the oldest to the youngest. If that was not suffi- 
cient, Balthazar had probably enough to "cover" the chil- 
dren's claims. Mile. Claes was, therefore, still, in his peculiar 
phraseology, a girl ''worth four hundred thousand francs." 

"But if she does not marry pretty soon," he added, " M. 
Claes will ruin his children ; he is just the man to do it. If 
she were married she would be emancipated from her father's 
control, and could compel him to sell the forest of Waignies, 
to divide it among them, and to invest the shares of the 
minors in such away that their father could not touch them." 

Every one began to suggest the names of various young men 
of the province who might aspire to the hand of Mile. Claes, 
but no one flattered the notary so far as to include him in the 
list. Pierquin raised so many objections to all the proposed 
suitors, and considered none of them worthy of Marguerite, 
that the company exchanged significant smiles, and amused 
themselves by teasing the notary, prolonging the process in 
provincial fashion. To Pierquin it seemed that Mme. Claes' 
death was likely to assist his cause, and he already began to 
cut up the dead for his own benefit. 

"That good lady yonder," said he to himself, as he went 
home that night, "was as proud as a peacock; she would 
never have allowed me to marry a daughter of hers. Eh ! eh ! 
but if I play my cards well now, why should I not marry the 
girl? Old Claes has carbon on the brain, and does not 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 127 

care what becomes of his children ; if I ask him for his 
daughter, as soon as I have convinced Marguerite that she 
must marry for her brothers' and sister's sake, he will be glad 
enough to be rid of a girl who may give him a good deal of 
trouble." 

He fell asleep in the midst of his meditations on the ad- 
vantages of this match, so attractive to him on so many 
grounds, a marriage which bade fair to secure his complete 
happiness. It would have been hard to find a more delicately 
lovely or a better bred girl in the province. Marguerite was 
as modest and graceful as the fair flower which Emmanuel 
had not dared to mention before, lest he should reveal the 
secret wishes of his heart. She had religious principles and 
instinctive pride ; his honor would be safe in her keeping. 
This marriage would not only gratify the vanity which enters 
more or less into every man's choice of a wife, but the 
notary's pride would be satisfied ; an alliance with a twice- 
ennobled family, which bore one of the most distinguished 
names in Flanders, would reflect lustre upon him. 

The very next morning Pierquin went to his strong box, 
and thence drew several notes of a thousand francs each, 
which he pressed on Balthazar, in order to spare his cousin 
any petty pecuniary annoyances in his grief. Balthazar would 
no doubt feel touched by the delicate attention, and speak of 
it to his daughter with an accompanying panegyric on the 
good qualities of the notary and his kindness of heart. 
But Balthazar did nothing of the kind. Neither M. Claes 
nor his daughter saw anything extraordinary in this action ; 
they were so taken up with their grief that they scarcely 
gave a thought to Pierquin. Indeed, Balthazar's despair 
was so great that those who had been disposed to blame 
his previous conduct now relented and forgave him, not 
on the score of his devotion to science, but because of the 
tardy remorse which would never repair the evil. The world 
is quite satisfied with grimaces ; it takes current coin without 



128 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

inquiring too curiously whether or no the metal is base ; the 
sight of pain has a certain dramatic interest, it is a sort of 
enjoyment in consideration of which the wovld is prepared to 
pardon everything, even to a criminal. The world craves 
sensation so eagerly that it absolves with equal readiness those 
who move it to laughter or to tears, without demanding a 
strict account of the means employed in either case. 

Marguerite had just completed her nineteenth year when her 
father intrusted the management of the household into her 
hands ; her brothers and sister remembered that their mother 
in the last moments of her life had bidden them obey their 
older sister, and her authority was dutifully recognized. Her 
delicate, pale face looked paler still by contrast with her 
mourning, as its sweet and patient expression was enhanced 
by sadness. From the very first it was abundantly evident 
that she possessed the womanly courage, the fortitude, and 
constant serenity which ministering angels surely bring to their 
task of healing, as they lay their green palm branches on 
aching hearts. But although she had early understood the 
duties laid upon her, and had accustomed herself to hide her 
sorrow, it was none the less deep ; and the serenity of her 
face was little in keeping with the vehemence of her grief. 
It was to be a part of her early experience to know the 
pain of repressing the sorrow and love with which the heart 
overflows ; henceforward the generous instincts of youth were 
to be curbed continually at the bidding of tyrannous necessity. 
After her mother's death she found herself involved at once 
in intricate problems where serious interests were at stake, and 
this at an age when a girl usually thinks of nothing but pleas- 
ure. The hard discipline of pain has never been lacking for 
angelic natures. 

A love which has vanity and greed for its twin supporters 
is the most stubborn of passions. Pierquin meant to lose no 
time in surrounding the heiress. The family had scarcely put 
on mourning when he found an opportunity of speaking to 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 129 

Marguerite; and began his operations with such skill, that 
she might well have been deceived by his tactics. But love 
had brought a faculty of clairvoyance, and Marguerite was 
not to be deceived, although Pierquin's good-nature, the good- 
nature of a notary who shows his affection by saving his 
client's money, gave some appearance of truth to his specious 
sentimentalities. The notary felt strong in his hazy relation- 
ship, in his acquaintance with family secrets and business affairs, 
in the esteem and friendship of Marguerite's father. The 
very abstractedness of that father, who was not likely to form 
any projects for his daughter's settlement in life, favored 
Pierquin's cause. He thought it quite impossible that Mar- 
guerite could have any predilection, and submitted his suit to 
her, though he was not clever enough to disguise beneath the 
flimsy veil of feigned passion the interested motives that had 
led him to scheme for this alliance, which are always hateful 
to young souls. In fact, they had changed places; the 
notary's revelation of selfishness was artless, and Marguerite 
was on her guard ; for he thought that he had to do with a 
defenceless girl, and had no regard for the privileges of 
weakness. 

"My dear cousin," he began, as he walked up and down 
the paths in the little garden, " you know my heart, and you 
know also how I shrink from intruding on your grief at such 
a moment. I ought not to be a notary, I am far too sensi- 
tive ; I have such a feeling heart ; but I am always forced to 
dwell on prosaic questions of interest when I would fain yield 
to the softer emotions which make life happy. It is very 
painful to me to be compelled to speak to you of matters 
which must jar upon your present feelings ; but it cannot be 
helped. You have constantly been in my thoughts for the 
past few days. I have just discovered, by a curious chance, 
that your brothers' and your sister's fortunes, and even your 
own, are imperiled. It rests with you to save your family 
from utter ruin." 
9 



130 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

" What ought we to do? " she asked, somewhat alarmed at 
these remarks. 

" You should marry," answered Pierquin. 

"I shall do nothing of the kind," she exclaimed. 

"You will marry," returned the notary, "after mature 
reflection on the critical condition of your affairs." 

" How can my marriage save us from ? " 

" That was what I was waiting to hear, cousin," he broke 
in. " Marriage emancipates a girl." 

" Why should I be emancipated ? " asked Marguerite. 

" To put you in possession of your rights, my dear little 
cousin," replied the notary, with an air of triumph. "In 
that event you would take your share of your mother's fortune ; 
and before you can take your share her property must be liqui- 
dated, and that would mean a forced sale of the forest of Waig- 
nies. That once settled, all the capital would be realized, 
and your father would be bound, as guardian, to invest your 
sister's share and your brothers' in such a way that chemistry 
could not touch it." 

"And suppose that none of these things happen what 
then?" asked she. 

" Why, in that case," said the notary, " your father would 
administer the estate. If he takes it into his head again to 
make gold, there is nothing to prevent him from selling the 
forest of Waignies, and leaving you all as bare as shorn lambs. 
The forest of Waignies is worth about fourteen hundred thou- 
sand francs at this moment, but your father may cut down 
every stick of timber any day, and the thirteen hundred acres 
of land will not fetch three hundred thousand francs. This 
is almost sure to happen ; and would it not be wiser to prevent 
it by raising the question at once, by emancipating yourself 
and demanding your share of the inheritance ? You would 
save in other ways ; your father would not fell the timber as 
he otherwise would do from time to time, to your prejudice. 
Just now chemistry is dormant, and of course he would invest 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 131 

the money realized by the sale in consols. The funds are at 
fifty-nine, so the dear children would have very nearly five 
thousand livres of interest on fifty thousand francs. Besides, 
as it is illegal to spend a minor's capital, your brothers and 
sister would find their fortune doubled by the time they came 
of age. Now, on the other hand, my word ! There you have 
the whole position ! Not only so, but your father has dipped 
pretty heavily into your mother's property ; and when the- 
inventory is made out, we shall see what the deficit amounts 
to. If there is a balance owing, you can take a mortgage on 
his lands, and save something in that way." 

" For shame ! " said Marguerite ; " that would be an insult 
to my father. It is not so long since my mother's last words 
were uttered, that I should have forgotten them already. My 
father is incapable of robbing his children," she added, with, 
bitter tears in her eyes. " You do not know him, M. Pierquin." 

" But suppose, my dear cousin, that your father betakes 
himself to chemistry again " 

" We should be ruined, should we not ? " 

" Oh ! utterly ruined ! Believe me, Marguerite," he said, 
taking her hand and pressing it to his heart ; " believe me, I 
should fail in my duty if I did not urge this course upon you. 
Your interests alone " 

"Monsieur," returned Marguerite coolly, as she withdrew 
her hand, "the real interests of my family demand that I 
should not marry. That was my mother's decision." 

"Cousin!" he cried, with the conviction of a man of 
business who sees a fortune squandered, " you are rushing on 
to your own destruction ; you might as well fling your mother's 
money into the water. Well, for you I will show the devo- 
tion of the warm friendship I feel for you. You do not know 
how much I love you ; I have adored you ever since I saw you 
on the day of the last ball that your father gave. You were 
charming ! You may trust the voice of the heart when it 
speaks of your interests, dear Marguerite." 



132 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

There was a moment's silence ; then he went on, " Yes, we 
will summon a family council, and emancipate you without 
consulting you about it." 

"But what does ' emancipation ' mean?" 

"It means that you will come into possession of your 
rights." 

" Then, if I can be emancipated in this way, why would 
you have me marry ? And to whom ? ' ' 

Pierquin did his best to look tenderly at his cousin, but the 
expression of his face was so at variance with the hard eyes 
that usually only grew eloquent over money, that Marguerite 
fancied she saw an interested motive in this affectionate im- 
promptu. 

"You should marry a man whom you cared for, in your 
own circle," he got out. " You must have a husband, if it 
were only to manage your business affairs. You will be left 
face to face with your father ; and can you hold your own 
against him, all by yourself? " 

" Yes, monsieur ; I shall find means to defend my brothers 
and sister when the time comes." 

" Plague take the girl ! " thought Pierquin to himself. 
Aloud he said, "No; you will never be able to stand out 
against him." 

" Let us say no more about it," she replied. 

" Good-bye, cousin. I shall do my best to serve you in 
spite of yourself; I shall show you how much I love you by 
preventing a misfortune which every one in the town fore- 
sees." 

" Thank you for the interest you take in me, but I beg of 
you neither to say nor do anything that can give my father 
the slightest annoyance." 

Marguerite thoughtfully watched Pierquin's retreating 
figure, and could not help comparing his metallic voice, his 
manners, supple as steel springs, his glances, which expressed 
servility rather than gentleness, with the mute revelation of 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 13S 

Emmanuel's feelings towards her, which impressed her as 
music or poetry might. 

In every word we speak, in every action of our lives, there 
is a strange magnetic power which makes itself felt, and which 
never deceives. The glances, the tones of the voice, the 
lover's impassioned gestures, can be imitated ; a clever actor 
may perhaps deceive an inexperienced girl, but to be success- 
ful he should have the field to himself. If there is another 
soul which vibrates in unison with every feeling that stirs her 
own, will she not soon find out the difference between love 
and its semblance? Emmanuel at this moment, like Mar- 
guerite herself, was under the influence of the clouds which 
had gathered about them ever since that first meeting in the 
picture gallery ; the blue heaven of love was hidden from 
their eyes. He had singled her out for a worship which, 
from its very hopelessness, was tender, mysterious, and rev- 
erent in its manifestations. Socially he was too far beneath 
Mile. Claes to hope to be accepted as her husband ; he was 
poor, and had nothing but a noble name to offer her. Then 
he had waited and waited for some slight encouragement, 
which Marguerite would not give him beneath the eyes of a 
dying mother. 

Equally pure, they had not as yet spoken a word of love. 
Their joys had been the secret joys which unhappy souls must 
perforce linger over alone. The same hope had, indeed, 
thrilled them both, but they had trembled and remained 
apart ; they seemed to fear themselves, conscious that each 
belonged too surely to the other. Emmanuel, therefore, 
feared to touch with his lips the hand of the sovereign lady 
whom he had enshrined in his heart. The slightest careless 
contact would have brought such an intoxication of delight 
that his senses would have been beyond his control ; he would 
no longer have been master of himself. But if they had 
never exchanged the slight yet significant, the innocent and 
solemn tokens of love which even the most timid lovers per- 



134 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

rait themselves, each dwelt no less in the other's heart, and 
both knew that they were ready to make the greatest sacrifices, 
the only pleasures that they could know. Ever since Mme. 
Claes' death the love in the depth of their hearts had been 
shrouded in mourning. The gloom in which they lived had 
deepened into night, and every ray of hope was quenched in 
tears. Marguerite's reserve had changed to something like 
coldness, for she felt bound to keep the vow which her mother 
had demanded of her ; and now that she had more liberty 
than formerly, she became more distant. Emmanuel had 
shared in her mourning, feeling with his beloved that the 
Jeast word or wish of love at such a time would be treason 
against the sovereign laws of the heart. So this passionate 
love was hidden away more closely than ever. The two souls 
were in unison, but sorrow had come between them and sep- 
arated them as effectually as the timidity of youth and respect 
for the sufferings of her who was now dead ; yet there was 
still left to them the magnificent language of the eyes, the 
mute eloquence of self-sacrifice, the knowledge that one 
thought always possessed them both sublime harmonies of 
youth, the first steps of love in its infancy. 

Emmanuel came every morning for news of Claes and of 
Marguerite, but he never came into the dining-room, where 
the family now sat, unless he brought a letter from Gabriel, or 
Balthazar invited him to enter. Numberless sympathetic 
thoughts were revealed in his first glance at the girl before 
him ; the reserve that compelled him to assume a conven- 
tional demeanor harassed him ; but he respected it, and 
shared the sorrow which caused it, and all the dew of his 
tears was shed on the heart of his beloved in a glance un- 
spoiled by any after-thought. He lived so evidently in the 
present moment, he set such high value on a happiness which 
he thought so fleeting, that Marguerite's heart sometimes smote 
her, and she told herself that she was ungenerous not to hold 
out her hand and say, " Let us be friends." 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 135 

Pierquin still continued his importunities with the obstinacy 
which is the patience of dulness, possessed by one idea. He 
judged Marguerite by the ordinary rules of the multitude 
when judging of women. He imagined that when the words 
"marriage," "liberty," and "fortune" had been let fall in 
her hearing they would take root in her mind, and spring up 
and blossom into wishes which he could turn to his own ad- 
vantage, and he chose to think that her coldness was nothing 
but dissimulation. But in spite of all his polite attentions, 
he was an awkward actor ; he sometimes forgot his part, and 
assumed the despotic tone of a man who is accustomed to 
make the final decision in all serious questions relating to 
family life. For her benefit he repeated consoling platitudes, 
the professional commonplaces which creep like snails over a 
sorrow, and leave behind them a track of barren words that 
profane the sanctity of grief. His tenderness was simply 
cajolery ; he dropped his feigned melancholy at the door when 
he put on his overshoes and took up his umbrella. He took 
advantage of the privileges which his long intimacy with the 
Maison Claes had given him, using them as a means of ingra- 
tiating himself with the rest of the family to bring Marguerite 
to make a marriage which was already talked of in the town. 
So in strong contrast to a true-hearted, devoted, and re- 
spectful love was opposed its selfish and calculating semblance. 
The characters of both men were in harmony with their man- 
ner. The one feigned a passion which he did not feel, and 
seized on every least advantage that gave him a hold on Mar- 
guerite ; the other concealed his love, and trembled lest his 
devotion should be too apparent. 

Some time after her mother's death, and, as it happened in 
one day, Marguerite had an opportunity of comparing the two 
men whom she was in a position to judge, for she was com- 
pelled to live in a social solitude which made her inaccessible 
to any who might have thought of asking her in marriage. 

One day, after breakfast, on one of the sunniest mornings 



136 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

of early April, Emmanuel chanced to call just as M. Claes was 
going out. Balthazar found his own house almost unendur- 
able, and spent a large part of the day in walking about the 
ramparts. Emmanuel turned, as though he meant to follow 
Balthazar, hesitated, seemed to gather up his courage, glanced 
at Marguerite, and stayed. Marguerite felt sure that he 
wished to speak with her, and asked him to go into the garden ; 
she sent Felicie to sit with Martha, who was sewing in the 
ante-chamber on an upper floor, and then seated herself on a 
garden seat in full view of her sister and the old duenna. 

" M. Claes is as much absorbed by his grief as he used to 
be by science," said the young man as he watched Balthazar 
pacing slowly across the court. " Every one in Douai is sorry 
for him ; he goes about like a man who has not got his wits 
about him ; he suddenly stops short without a reason and gazes 
about him and sees nothing " 

"Every one expresses sorrow in a different way," said 
Marguerite, keeping back the tears. "What did you wish to 
say to me? " she added, with cold dignity, after a pause. 

"Mademoiselle," Emmanuel replied in an unsteady voice, 
"I scarcely know if I have a right to speak to you as I am 
about to do. Please think only of my desire to serve you, 
and believe that a schoolmaster may be so much interested in 
his pupils as to feel anxious about their future. Your brother 
Gabriel is over fifteen now; he is in the second class; it is 
surely time to think about his probable career, and to arrange 
his course of study accordingly. The decision rests of course 
with your father, but if he gives it no thought, it may be a 
serious matter for Gabriel. And yet it would be a mortifica- 
tion to your father, would it not, if you pointed out to him 
that he was neglecting his son ? So, as things are, could you 
not yourself consult Gabriel as to his inclinations, and help 
him to choose a course of study, so that if your father at a 
later day should wish him to enter the civil service or to make 
a soldier of him, Gabriel will be prepared for his post by a 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 137 

special training ? I am sure that neither you nor M. Claes 
would wish to bring up Gabriel in idleness " 

" Oh, no ! " said Marguerite. " Thank you, M. Emmanuel, 
you are quite right. When our mother had us taught how to 
make lace, and took such pains with our drawing, sewing, 
music, and embroidery, she often said that we could not tell what 
might happen, and that we must be prepared for everything. 
Gabriel ought to have resources within himself, so he must 
have a thorough education. But what is the best career for a 
man to choose?" 

Emmanuel trembled with happiness. "Mademoiselle," he 
said, " Gabriel is at the head of his class in mathematics; if 
he were to enter the Ecole Polytechnique, I feel sure that he 
would acquire practical knowledge there which would be use- 
ful to him afterwards all through his life. He would be free 
to choose a career after his own inclinations after he had left 
the Ecole, and you would have gained time without binding 
him down to any programme. Men who distinguish them- 
selves there are always sought after. Diplomatists, scholars, 
administrators, engineers, generals, sailors, magistrates, manu- 
facturers, and bankers are all educated at the Ecole. So it 
is nothing at all extraordinary that a young man belonging to 
a great or wealthy family should study to qualify for admis- 
sion. If Gabriel should make up his mind to this, I would 
ask you will you grant me my request ? Say, Yes." 

"What is it?" 

" Let me be his tutor ? " he said nervously. 

Marguerite looked at M. de Solis, then she took his hand 
and said, "Yes." 

She was silent for a moment, then she added in an unsteady 
voice 

" How much I value the delicacy which has led you to offer 
something that I can accept from you. In all that you have 
just said I can see how much you have thought for us. Thank 
you." 



138 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

Simply as these words were said, Emmanuel turned his head 
away lest Marguerite should see the tears of happiness in his 
eyes ; he was overcome by the delight of being useful to her. 

" I will bring them both to see you," he went on when he 
had recovered his self-possession. " To-morrow is a holiday." 
He rose and took leave of Marguerite, who shortly followed 
him to the house; as he crossed the court he still saw her 
standing by the dining-room door, and received a last friendly 
sign of farewell. 

After dinner the notary came to call on M. Claes. Mar- 
guerite and her father were out in the garden, and Pierquin 
took up his position between them on the very bench where 
Emmanuel had sat that morning. 

"My dear cousin," he said, addressing Balthazar, "I have 
come to talk about business to-night. Forty-two days have 
now elapsed since your lamented wife's demise " 

" I have not noticed how the time went," said Claes, brush- 
ing away a tear that rose at the technical term demise. 

"Oh! monsieur," cried Marguerite, with a glance at the 
lawyer, " how can you ? " 

" But, my dear Marguerite, we lawyers are obliged to con- 
sider the limits of the time prescribed by law. This matter 
more particularly concerns you and your co-heirs. All M. 
Claes' children are under age, so within forty-five days of his 
wife's demise he is bound to have an inventory made out, so 
as to ascertain the value of the estate they held in common. 
How are we to find out if it is solvent or no, and whether 
there is enough to satisfy the minors' claims?" 

Marguerite rose. 

"Do not go away, cousin," said Pierquin ; "this matter 
concerns you as well as your father: You know how deeply 
I feel your grief, but you must give your attention at once to 
these requirements of the law, otherwise you may both get 
into serious trouble. I am simply doing my duty as legal 
adviser to the family/' 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 139 

" He is quite right," said Claes. 

" The time expires in two days," Pierquin continued, "and 
I must set to work to-morrow to make out the inventory, if it 
is only to postpone the payment of legacy duty which the 
treasury will demand very shortly. The treasury is not dis- 
turbed by compunction, and has no heart ; it sets its claws in 
us at all seasons. So my clerk and I will come here every 
day from ten to four with M. Raparlier the valuer. As soon 
as we have finished here in the town, we will go into the 
country. We can talk about the forest of Waignies by and 
by. So that is settled, and now let us turn our attention to 
another point. We must call a family council, and appoint a 
guardian. M. Conyncks of Bruges is your nearest living rela- 
tive, but he unluckily has become a Belgian citizen. You 
ought to write to him, cousin, and find out whether the old 
gentleman has any notion of settling in France ; he has a fine 
property on this side of the frontier ; and you might perhaps 
induce him and his daughter to move into French Flanders. 
If he declines to make a change, I will see about arranging 
for a council of some of the nearer remaining relations." 

" What is the use of an inventory? " asked Marguerite. 

"To find out how the property stands, and ascertain the 
assets and debts. When it is all clearly scheduled, the family 
council takes such steps as it deems necessary on behalf of 
the minors " 

"Pierquin," said Claes, as he rose from the garden seat, 
" do anything that you think necessary to protect my chil- 
dren's interests, but spare us the distress of selling anything 
that belonged to my dear wife " 

He did not finish the sentence, but he spoke with so much 
dignity, there was such deep feeling in his tones, that Mar- 
guerite took her father's hand in hers and kissed it. 

" I will return to-morrow, then," said Pierquin. 

" Come and breakfast with us," said Balthazar. He seemed 
to be collecting scattered memories together, for in a moment 



140 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

he exclaimed: "But in my marriage contract, which was 
drawn up according to the custom of Hainault, I released my 
wife from the obligation of making an inventory, in order to 
spare her the worry and annoyance, and it is quite probable 
that I was likewise released " 

"Oh! how fortunate!" cried Marguerite. "It would 
have given us so much trouble " 

" Very well," said Pierquin, who was rather put out; " we 
will look into your marriage contract to-morrow." 

"Then you did not know of this?" said Marguerite, an 
inquiry which put an end to the interview, for the notary was 
so much embarrassed by his cousin's home-thrust that he was 
glad to abandon the discussion. 

"The devil is in it I " said he to himself as he crossed the 
courtyard. " That man, for all his abstractedness, can find 
his wandering wits in the nick of time, and put a stop to our 
precautions against him. He will squander his children's 
money, it is as plain as that two and two make four. Talk 
of business to a girl of nineteen, and she gets sentimental 
over it ! Here I am racking my brains to save the property 
of those children by regular means, by coming to an under- 
standing with old Conyncks, and this is the end of it ! I 
have thrown away all my chances with Marguerite ; she is 
sure to ask her father why I wanted an inventory of the prop- 
erty, which she now fancies to be quite unnecessary, and 
Claes, of course, will tell her that lawyers have a craze for 
drawing up documents ; that we are notaries first, and cousins 
and friends, and whatnot, afterwards, all sorts of rubbish, in 
fact." 

He slammed the door, storming inwardly at clients who let 
their sentimentality ruin them. 

Balthazar was right. The inventory did not take place. 
So nothing was done to limit or define the father's powers 
over his children's property. 

Several months went by, and brought no changes to the 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 141 

Maison Claes. Gabriel, under the able tuition of M. de Solis, 
studied hard, learned the necessary foreign languages, and 
prepared to pass the entrance examination at the Ecole Poly- 
technique. Felicie and Marguerite lived in absolute retire- 
ment ; but, nevertheless, they spent the summer at their 
father's country house, in order to economize. M. Claes was 
much occupied by his business affairs; he paid his debts, 
raising the money on his own property, and went to visit the 
forest of Waignies. 

By the middle of the year 1817 his grief had gradually 
abated, and he began to feel depressed by the dulness and 
sameness of the life he led. At first he resisted temptation 
bravely, and would not allow himself to think of chemistry ; 
but the love of science was only dormant, and in spite of him 
self his thoughts turned towards his old pursuits. Then he 
thought he would not begin his experiments; he would not 
take up his science practically, he would confine himself to 
theory ; but the longer he dwelt with these theories, the 
stronger his passion grew, and he began to equivocate with 
himself. He asked himself whether he was really bound not 
to prosecute his researches, and remembered how his wife had 
refused his oath. He had certainly vowed to himself that he 
would make no further attempt to solve the great problem, 
but the road to success had never been so certain and so 
plain ; was he not surely free to change his mind now that 
the way was clear ? He was then fifty-nine years of age, and 
his idea possessed him now with the dogged fixity which 
slowly develops into monomania. Outward circumstances 
also combined to shake his wavering loyalty. 

Europe was at peace. Men of science of various nationali- 
ties, cut off from all communication with each other by twenty 
years of wars, were now free to correspond and to communi- 
cate their discoveries and theories to each other. Science 
was making great strides. Claes found that modern discov- 
eries had a bearing, which his fellow-chemists did not suspect, 



142 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

upon the problem of the Absolute. Learned men who were 
devoting their lives to the solution of other scientific enigmas 
began to think, as he did, that light and heat, and galvanism 
and electricity, were only different effects of the same cause, 
and that all the various substances which had hitherto been 
regarded as different elements were merely allotropic forms 
of the same unknown element. The fear that some other 
chemist might effect the reduction of metals, and find the 
principle of electricity (two discoveries which would lead to 
the solution of the problem of the Absolute), raised the 
enthusiasm, which the people of Douai called a mania, to the 
highest pitch ; only those who have felt a like passionate love of 
science, or who have known the tyranny of ideas, can imagine 
the force of the paroxysm. Balthazar's frenzy was but the 
more violent because it had been so long subdued, and now 
broke out afresh. 

Marguerite, who had been watching her father very closely, 
divined this crisis, and opened the long-closed parlor. She 
thought that if they sat in that room once more, old painful 
memories of her mother's death would be awakened, and 
would act as a restraint, and she was to some extent successful. 
For a little while her father's grief was reawakened, and the 
inevitable plunge into the abyss was deferred, but it was only 
for a little while. She determined to go into society once 
more, and so to distract Balthazar's attention from these 
thoughts. Several good marriages were proposed for her, over 
which Claes deliberated, but Marguerite said that until she 
was twenty-five she would not marry. In spite of all his 
daughter's endeavors, in spite of remorseful inner struggles, 
Balthazar began his experiments again in the early days of the 
winter. At first they were conducted secretly, but it was not 
easy to hide such occupations as his from the inquisitive eyes 
of the maidservants. 

One day, therefore, while Marguerite was dressing, Martha 
said to her, " Mademoiselle, it is all over with us ! That 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 143 

wretch of a Mulquinier (who is the devil himself in human 
shape, for I have never seen him cross himself) has gone up 
into the attic again. There is the master on the high road to 
hell ! Heaven send that he may not be the death of you all, 
as he was the death of the poor dear mistress ! " 

"Impossible ! " said Marguerite. 

" Come and see their goings-on for yourself." 

Mile. Claes sprang to the window, and saw, in fact, a thin 
streak of smoke rising from the laboratory chimney. 

"I shall be twenty-one in a few months' time," she 
thought, " and then our property must be squandered no 
longer; I must find a way to prevent it." 

When Balthazar finally gave way to his passion, his respect 
for his children's interests was, of course, less of a restraint 
than his affection for his wife had been. Such barriers were 
easily overleaped, his conscience was more elastic, his passion 
had grown stronger. Glory, and hard work, and hope, and 
misery lay before him ; he set out on his way with the energy 
of full and entire conviction. He felt so sure of the outcome 
of it all that he worked day and night, flinging himself into 
his pursuits with a zeal that alarmed his daughters ; they did 
not know that a man's health seldom suffers from the work 
that he loves and does for its own sake. 

As soon as her father began his experiments, Marguerite 
reduced the expenses of housekeeping, and became almost as 
parsimonious as a miser. Josette and Martha entered into 
her plans, and seconded her loyally. As for Claes, he was 
scarcely aware of these retrenchments ; he did not notice 
that they had been reduced to the bare necessaries of life. 
He began by staying away from the family breakfast ; then 
the whole day was spent in the laboratory, and he only came 
down to dinner, and sat for a few silent hours afterwards in 
the evening in the parlor with the two girls. He never spoke 
to them ; he did not seem to hear them when they wished 
him good-night ; he mechanically let them kiss him on both 



144 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

cheeks. Such neglect as this might have brought about seri- 
ous consequences if Marguerite had not wielded a mother's 
authority, if the love in her heart had not been a safeguard. 

Pierquin had discontinued his visits entirely ; in his opinion 
nothing could save his cousins from utter ruin. Balthazar's 
estates, which were worth about two hundred thousand crowns, 
and brought in sixteen thousand francs, were already incum- 
bered with mortgages to the amount of three hundred thousand 
francs. Claes had inaugurated his second epoch of scientific 
enthusiasm by a heavy loan. At that moment his income just 
sufficed to pay the interest on his debts ; and as, with the 
improvidence characteristic of men who live for an idea, he 
had made over all the rents of his farms to Marguerite to 
defray the expenses of the housekeeping, the notary calculated 
that the end must come in three years' time, when everything 
would go to rack and ruin, and the sheriff's officers would eat 
up all that Balthazar had left. Under the influence of Mar- 
guerite's coldness, Pierquin's indifference had almost become 
hostility. He meant to secure his retreat in case his cousin 
should grow so poor that he might no longer wish to marry 
her, and spoke of the Claes everywhere in a pitying tone. 

" Poor things, they are in a fair way to be ruined," said he. 
"I did everything I could to save them; but, would you 
believe it ? Mile. Claes herself set her face against every plan 
by which the law could step in to secure those children from 
starvation." 

Emmanuel, through his uncle's influence, had been appointed 
headmaster of the College de Douai, his own personal qualifi- 
cations having eminently fitted him for the post. He came 
almost every evening to see the two girls, who summoned 
their old duenna to the parlor as soon as their father left them 
for the night. Always at the same hour they heard the knock 
at the door : young M. de Solis was never late. For the past 
three months Marguerite's mute gratitude and graciousness 
had given him confidence ; he had developed, and was him- 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 145 

self. His purity of soul shone like a flawless diamond, and 
Marguerite learned to know the full value of his steadfast 
strength of character, when she saw that it had its source in 
the depths of his nature. She saw the blossoms open out one 
by one; hitherto she had only known of them by their 
fragrance. Every day Emmanuel realized some hope of 
hers, new splendors lighted up the enchanted country of 
love, the clouds vanished, the sky grew clear and serene, 
unsuspected treasures which had been hidden in the gloom 
shone forth. For Emmanuel was more at his ease ; he could 
display the winning grace of the heart, the infectious gaiety 
of youth, the simplicity that comes of a life of study, the 
treasures of a fastidious mind and unsophisticated nature, the 
innocent merriment that suits so well with youthful love. 
Marguerite and Emmanuel understood each other better; 
together they had explored the depths of their hearts, and 
had found the same thoughts, pearls of the same lustre, 
blended notes of harmony, as clear and sweet as the magic 
music which holds the divers spellbound under the sea. They 
had come to know each other through the interchange of 
ideas in the course of those evening talks, studying each other 
with a curiosity that grew to be a delicate imaginative sympa- 
thy. There was no bashfulness on either side, but perhaps 
some coquetry. The hours which Emmanuel spent with the 
two girls under Martha's eyes reconciled Marguerite to her 
life of anguish and resignation ; the love that grew uncon- 
sciously was her support in her troubles. Emmanuel's affec- 
tion expressed itself with the natural grace that is irresistible, 
with the delicate and delightful wit that reveals fresh phases 
of deep feeling, as the facets of a precious stone set free all its 
hidden fires ; the wonderful devices that love teaches lovers, 
which render a woman loyally responsive to the hand of the 
artist who sets new life into the old forms, to the tones of the 
voice which give a new significance to a phrase each time it 
is repeated. Love is not merely a sentiment, it is an art. A 
10 



146 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

bare word, a hesitation, a nothing, reveals to a woman the 
presence of the great and sublime artist who can touch her 
heart without withering it. The farther Emmanuel went, the 
more charming were the ways in which his love expressed 
itself. 

"I have outstripped Pierquin," he said one evening; "I 
am the bearer of bad tidings that he is going to bring, but I 
thought I would rather tell them myself. Your father has sold 
your forest to some speculators, who have taken the timber as 
it stands to sell again in smaller quantities; the trees have 
been cut down already, and all the trunks have been taken 
away. Three hundred thousand francs were paid down at 
once, and this was sent to Paris to discharge M. Claes' debts 
there ; but in order to clear his debts entirely, he has been 
forced to assign to his creditors a hundred thousand francs out 
of the hundred thousand crowns still due to him on the pur- 
chase money." 

Just at that point Pierquin came in. 

"Well, my dear cousin," he said, "you are ruined, you 
see ! I told you how it would be, but you would not listen to 
me. Your father has a good appetite ; he only made one bite 
of your forest. Your guardian, M. Conyncks, is away at 
Amsterdam, where he is negotiating the sale of his Belgian 
estates, and while his back is turned Claes seizes the opportu- 
nity to do this stroke of business. It is hardly fair. I have 
just written to old Conyncks, but it will be all up with you 
by the time he gets here. You will be obliged to take pro- 
ceedings against your father. It will not take very long to 
settle the affair in a court of law, but Claes will not come out 
of it very well ; M. Conyncks will be compelled to take ac- 
tion, the law requires it in such cases. And all this has come 
of your wilfulness ! Do you see now how prudent I was, and 
how devoted to your interests ? ' ' 

" I have some good news for you, mademoiselle," said young 
de Solis in his gentle voice ; " Gabriel has been admitted as a 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 147 

pupil at the Ecolc Polytcchniquc ; the difficulties which were 
raised at first have been cleared away." 

Marguerite thanked him by a smile, and said, " Then I 
shall find a use for my savings. Martha," she added, speak- 
ing to the old servant, "we must begin at once to make 
ready Gabriel's outfit. Poor Felicie, we both must work 
hard," she said, with a kiss on her sister's forehead. 

" He will return home to-morrow, and you will have him 
here for about ten days; on the i5th of November he must 
be in Paris." 

" Cousin Gabriel is well advised," said the notary, as he 
scanned the headmaster ; " he will have to make his way in 
the world. But now, my dear Marguerite, the honor of the 
family is at stake ; will you listen to me this time ? ' ' 

" Not if it is a question of marriage." 

"But what will you do? " 

" Nothing, cousin. What should I do ? " 

"You are of age." 

" I shall be of age in a few days' time. Is there any course 
which you can suggest that will reconcile our interests with 
our duty to our father and with the honor of the family? " 

"You can do nothing, cousin, without your uncle. That 
is clear. When he comes back to Douai I will call again." 

"Good-evening, monsieur," said Marguerite. 

"The poorer she grows, the more airs she gives herself," 
thought the notary. Aloud he said, " Good-evening, made- 
moiselle. M. de Solis, I have the honor to wish you good- 
day," and he went away without paying any attention to 
Felicie or to Martha. 

When the door closed on him, Emmanuel spoke, with hesi- 
tation in his voice : "I have been studying the Code for the 
past two days," he said, "and I have taken counsel with an 
old lawyer, one of my uncle's friends. If you will allow me, 
I will go to Amsterdam to-morrow. Listen, dear Marguerite." 

He had spoken her name for the first time. She thanked 



148 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

him by a glance and a gentle inclination of the head, and 
listened smilingly, though her eyes were full of tears. 

" You can speak before my sister," said Marguerite ; " she 
has no need to learn resignation to a life of hardship and toil, 
she is so brave and sweet, but from this discussion she will 
learn how much we need all our courage." 

The two sisters clasped each other's hands, as if to renew 
the pledge of the closer union brought about by a common 
trouble. 

" Leave us, Martha." 

" Dear Marguerite," Emmanuel began, and something of 
the happiness that he felt at thus acquiring one of the least 
privileges of affection could be felt in his voice, " I have the 
names and addresses of the purchasers, who have not yet paid 
the balance of the two hundred thousand francs for the felled 
timber. To-morrow, if you give your consent, a lawyer act- 
ing in M. Conyncks' name shall serve a writ of attachment on 
them. Your great-uncle will return in a week's time. He 
will call a family council and emancipate Gabriel, who is now 
eighteen. When that has been done, you and your brother 
will be in a position to demand your rights, and you can 
require your share of the proceeds of this sale of the wood. 
M. Claes could not refuse you the two hundred thousand francs 
which have been attached ; as for the remaining hundred 
thousand francs, they could be secured to you by a mortgage 
on this house that you are living in. M. Conyncks will 
demand securities for the three hundred thousand francs which 
belong to Mademoiselle Felicie and to Jean, and your father 
will be obliged to mortgage his property in the plains of 
Orchies, which are already encumbered with a debt of a hun- 
dred thousand crowns. The law regards mortgages for the 
benefit of minors as a first charge, so everything will be saved. 
M. Claes' hands will be tied for the future ; your landed 
property is inalienable ; he will be unable to borrow any more 
money on his own, which will be mortgaged beyond their 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 149 

value, and the whole arrangement will be a family affair; 
there will be no lawsuits and no scandal. Your father will 
perforce set about his investigations less recklessly, if, indeed, 
he does not give them up altogether." 

"Yes," said Marguerite, "but how shall we live? There 
will be no interest paid on the hundred thousand francs 
secured to us on this house so long as we continue to live in 
it. The farms in the plains of Orchies will bring in just 
enough to pay interest on the mortgages. What shall we 
do?" 

" Well, in the first place," said Emmanuel, " if you invest 
Gabriel's remaining fifty thousand francs in the funds, at 
present prices it will bring in four thousand livres ; that will 
be sufficient to pay all his expenses at the Ecole in Paris. 
Gabriel cannot touch the principal nor the money secured to 
him on this house until he comes of age, so you need not fear 
that he will squander a penny of it, and you will have one 
expense the less. In the second place, is there not your own 
share, a hundred and fifty thousand francs?" 

"My father will be sure to ask me for them," she cried in 
dismay, " and I could not refuse him." 

" Well, then, dear Marguerite, you can secure the money 
by robbing yourself. Invest it in the funds in your brother's 
name; it would bring you in twelve or thirteen thousand 
livres, and you could manage to live on that. An emancipated 
minor cannot touch his principal without the consent of the 
family council, so you will gain three years of freedom from 
anxiety. In three years' time your father will either have solved 
his problem, or, as is more probable, he will have given it up as 
hopeless ; and when Gabriel comes of age he can transfer the 
stock into your name, and the accounts can be finally settled 
among the four of you." 

Marguerite asked for an explanation of the provisions of 
the law which she could not understand at first, and again 
they went over every point. It was certainly a novel situa- 



150 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

tion two lovers poring over a copy of the Code, which Em- 
manuel had brought with him in order to make the position 
of minors clear to Marguerite. Love's penetration came to 
the aid of her woman's quick-wittedness, and she soon 
grasped the gist of the matter. 

The next day Gabriel returned home. M. de Solis came 
also, and from him Balthazar heard the news of his son's 
admission to the Ecole Poly technique. Claes expressed his 
acknowledgments by a wave of the hand. " I am very glad 
to hear it," he said ; " so Gabriel is to be a scientific man, is 
he?" and the head of the house returned to his laboratory. 

" Gabriel," said Marguerite, as Balthazar went out, " you 
must work hard, and you must not be extravagant. Do as 
others do, but be very careful ; and while you are in Paris 
spend your holidays with our friends and relations there, and 
do not contract the expensive habits which ruin young men. 
Your necessary expenses will amount to nearly a thousand 
crowns, so you will have a thousand francs left for pocket 
money. That should be enough." 

" I will answer for him," said Emmanuel de Solis, laying his 
hand on his pupil's shoulder. 

A month later M. de Conyncks and Marguerite had ob- 
tained all the required guarantee from M. Claes. Emmanuel's 
prudent advice had been approved and carried out to the 
letter. Balthazar felt ashamed of the sale of the forest. His 
creditors had harassed him, until he had been driven to take 
this rash step to escape from them ; and now, when he was 
confronted with the consequences of his deeds, when he was 
face to face, moreover, with his stern cousin, who was inflexible 
where honor was concerned, he did all that was required of 
him. He was, in fact, not ill pleased to repair so easily the mis- 
chief he had half-unconsciously wrought. He put his signature 
to the various papers laid before him with the preoccupied air 
of a man for whom science was the one reality, and all things 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 151 

else of no moment. He had no more foresight than the 
negro who sells his wife in the morning for a drop of brandy, 
and sheds tears over her loss in the evening. Apparently he 
could not look forward : even the immediate future was beyond 
his ken ; he never stopped to ask himself what must happen 
when his last ducat has been thrown into the furnace, and 
prosecuted his researches as recklessly as before. He neither 
knew nor cared to know that the house in which he lived was 
his only in name, and, like his estates, had passed into other 
hands ; he did not realize the fact that (thanks to the strin- 
gent regulations of the law) he could not raise another penny 
on the property of which he was in a manner the legal guar- 
dian. 

The year 1818 went by, and no untoward event occurred. 
The two girls just managed to defray the necessary expenses of 
the housekeeping and of Jean's education with the interest of 
the money invested in Gabriel's name, which he punctually re- 
mitted every quarter. M. de Solis lost his uncle in the Decem- 
ber of that year. 

One morning Marguerite heard from Martha that her father 
had sold his collection of tulips, the furniture of the state 
apartments, and all their remaining plate. She was compelled 
to repurchase the necessary silver for daily use herself, and to 
have it marked with her own initials. Hitherto she had 
watched Balthazar's depredations in silence ; but after dinner 
that evening she asked Felicie to leave her alone with her 
father, and when he had seated himself by the fireside as 
usual, Marguerite spoke. She had nerved herself for the try- 
ing ordeal of the impending struggle with her father. 

" You are the master here, dear father," she said ; " you can 
sell everything, even your children. We will all obey you with- 
out a murmur ; but I must point out to you that we have no 
money left, that we have scarcely enough to live upon this year, 
and that Felicie and I have to work night and day to earn the 
money to pay for Jean's school expenses by the lace dress 



152 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

which we are making. Father dear, give up your researches, 
I implore you." 

" You are right, dear child ; in six weeks they will come to 
an end. I shall have discovered the Absolute, or the Abso- 
lute will be proved to be undiscoverable. You will have 
millions " 

" But leave us bread to eat meanwhile," pleaded Marguerite. 

" Bread ? Is there no bread in the house? " said Claes in 
blank dismay. " No bread in the house of a Claes ! What 
has become of all our property? " 

" You have cut down the forest of Waignies. The ground 
has not been cleared as yet, so it brings in nothing, and the 
rents of the farms at Orchies are not sufficient to pay interest 
on the mortgages." 

" Then how do we live?" he asked. 

Marguerite held up her needle. 

"The interest on Gabriel's money helps us," she added, 
"but it is not enough. I shall just make both ends meet at 
the end of the year if you do not overwhelm me with bills 
that I did not expect, for you say nothing about your pur- 
chases. I feel quite sure that I have enough to meet my 
quarterly expenses, it is all planned out so carefully and 
then a bill is sent in for soda or potash, or zinc or sulphur, 
and all sorts of things." 

" Have patience and wait another six weeks, dear child, and 
then I will be very prudent. You shall see wonders, my little 
Marguerite." 

"It is quite time to think of your own affairs. You have 
sold everything ; pictures, tulips, silver-plate nothing is left 
to us ; but at any rate you will not run into debt again ? ' ' 

" I am determined to make no more debts." 

" No more debts ! " she cried. " Then there are debts ? " 

"Oh ! nothing, nothing, mere trifles," he said, reddening, 
as he lowered his eyes. 

For the first time in her life Marguerite felt humiliated by 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 153 

her father's humiliation; it was so painful to her, that she 
could not bring herself to inquire into the matter ; but a month 
later a messenger came from a Douai bank with a bill of 
exchange for ten thousand francs, which bore Claes' signature. 
When Marguerite asked for a day's delay, and expressed her 
regret that she had not received any notice and so was unpre- 
pared to meet the bill, the messenger informed her that 
Messieurs Protez and Chiffreville held nine others, each for a 
like amount, which would fall due in consecutive months. 

" It is all over with us ! " cried Marguerite, " the time has 
come." 

She sent for her father, and walked restlessly up and down 
the parlor, speaking to herself, " A hundred thousand francs, 

or our father must go to prison ! What shall I do ? Oh ! 

what shall I do ? " 

Balthazar did not come. Marguerite grew tired of waiting, 
and went up to the laboratory. She paused in the doorway, 
and saw her father standing in a brilliant patch of sunlight in 
the middle of a vast room filled with machinery and dusty 
glass vessels ; the tables that stood here and there were loaded 
with books and numbered and ticketed specimens of various 
substances ; yet other specimens were heaped on the shelves, 
along the walls, or flung down beside the furnaces. There 
was something repugnant to orderly Flemish prejudices in all 
this confused litter. Balthazar's tall figure rose above a col- 
lection of flasks and retorts ; he had thrown off his coat and 
rolled back his sleeves above the elbows like a workman, his 
shirt was unfastened, exposing his chest, covered with white 
hair. He was gazing with frightful intentness on an air-pump, 
from which he never took his eyes. The receiver of the 
instrument was covered by a lens constructed of two convex 
glasses, the space between them being filled with alcohol ; the 
sunlight that entered the room through one of the panes of the 
rose window (the rest had been carefully blocked up) was thus 
focussed on the contents of the receiver. The plate of the 



154 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

receiver was insulated, and communicated with the wire of a 
huge voltaic battery. Le Mulquinier was busy at the moment 
in shifting the plate of the receiver, so that the lens might be 
maintained in a position perpendicular to the rays of the sun ; 
he raised his face, which was black with dust, and shouted, 
"Ah! mademoiselle, keep away ! " 

She looked at her father, who knelt on one knee before his 
apparatus, perfectly indifferent to the rays of sunlight that 
shone full on his face and lit up his hair until it gleamed like 
silver ; his brows were knotted, every muscle of his face was 
tense with painful expectation. The strange things strewn 
around him, the mysterious machinery dimly visible in the 
semi-darkness of the rest of the attic, everything about her 
combined to alarm Marguerite. 

" Our father is mad," she said to herself in her dismay. 

Then she went up to him and whispered in his ear, " Send 
Le Mulquinier away." 

" No, no, child, I want him ; I am waiting to see the result 
of an experiment which has never been tried before. For the 
last three days we have been on the watch for a ray of sun- 
light ; everything is ready, I am about to concentrate the 
solar rays on these metals in a perfect vacuum, submitting 
them simultaneously to the action of a current of electricity. 
In another moment, you see, I shall employ the most powerful 
agents known to chemistry, and I alone " 

" Oh, father ! instead of reducing metal to gas, you should 
keep it to pay your bills of exchange ' ' 

"Wait! wait!" 

" But M. Mersktus is here, father ; he must have ten thou- 
sand francs by four o'clock." 

"Yes, yes, presently. It is quite right; I did sign a bill 
for some small amount which would fall due this month. I 
thought I should have discovered the Absolute before this. 
Good heavens ! if only I had a July sun, the experiment 
would be over by this time." 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 155 

He ran his fingers through his hair, the tears came into his 
eyes, and he dropped into an old cane-seated chair. 

"That is quite right, sir," said Le Mulquinier. "It is all 
the fault of that rascally sun that won't shine enough, the lazy 
beggar." 

Neither master nor man seemed to remember Marguerite's 
presence. 

"Leave us, Mulquinier," she said. 

" Ah ! " cried Claes, " I have it ! We will try a new ex- 
periment." 

" Father, never mind the experiments now," said the young 
girl when they were alone. " Here is a demand for a hun- 
dred thousand francs, and we have not a farthing. Your 
honor is involved ; you must come down and leave the labo- 
ratory. What will become of you if you are imprisoned ? Shall 
your white hair and the name of Claes be soiled with the dis- 
grace of bankruptcy ? It shall not be, I will not have it, I 
will find strength to combat your madness; it would be dread- 
ful to see you wanting bread in your old age. Open your 
eyes to our position ; come to your senses at last ! " 

"Madness! " cried Balthazar, rising to his feet. A light 
shone in the eyes he fixed on his daughter's face, "Madness !" 
There was something so majestic in his manner as he repeated 
the word that his daughter trembled. He folded his arms. 
"Ah ! your mother would never have uttered that word," he 
went on. " She did not shut her eyes to the importance of 
my researches ; she studied science that she might understand 
me ; she saw that I was working for humanity, that there was 
nothing selfish nor sordid in me. I see that a wife's love 
rises far above a daughter's affection ; yes, love is the loftiest 
of all feelings. Come to my senses !" he went on, striking 
his breast. "When did I take leave of them? Am I not 
myself? We are poor, are we ? Very well, my daughter, I 
choose to be poor ; do you understand ? I am your father, 
and you must obey me. You shall be rich again when I wish 



156 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

it. As for your fortune, it is a mere nothing. When I find 
a solvent of carbon, I will fill the parlor down stairs with 
diamonds, but even that is a pitiful trifle compared with the 
wonders for which I am seeking. Surely you can wait when 
I am doing my utmost, and spending my life in superhuman 
efforts to " 

"Father, I have no right to ask an account of the four 
millions which have melted away in this garret. I will say 
nothing of my mother, but your science killed her. If I were 
married, I should no doubt love my husband as my mother 
loved you ; I would sacrifice everything for him, just as my 
mother sacrificed everything for you. I am doing as 
she bade me, I have given you all I had to give ; you have 
had proof of it, I would not marry lest you should be com- 
pelled to render an account of your guardianship. But let us 
say no more about the past, let us think of the present. You 
have brought things to a crisis, and I have come here to put 
it before you. We must have money to meet these bills ; do 
you understand me ? There is absolutely nothing left but the 
portrait of our ancestor Van Claes. I have come in my 
mother's name ; my mother, whose heart failed her when she 
had to struggle for her children's sake against their father's 
will, bade me resist you ; I have come in my brothers' name 
and my sister's ; father, I have come in the name of all the 
Claes to bid you cease your experiments, and to retrieve your 
losses before you turn to chemistry again. If you steel your- 
self against me, if you use your authority over us only to kill 
us your ancestors, and your own honor plead for me, and 
what can chemistry urge against the voices of your family ? I 
have been your daughter but too well," Marguerite replied 
with stern emphasis. 

"And now you mean to be my executioner," he said in a 
feeble voice. 

Marguerite turned and fled. She could not trust herself to 
play her part any longer; her mother's voice rang in her ears, 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 157 

*' Love your father, and do not cross him more than you can 
help.'" 

"Here is a pretty piece of work of mademoiselle's," said 
Le Mulquinier, as he came down into the kitchen for his 
breakfast. " We had just about put our finger on the secret ; 
we only wanted a blink of July sunlight, and the master ah ! 
what a man that is ! he stands in the shoes of Providence, as 
you may say. There was not that" he said to Josette, click- 
ing his thumb-nail against his front teeth, "between us and 
the secret, when, presto ! up she comes and makes a fuss about 
some nonsensical bills " 

"Good, then," cried Martha, "pay them yourself out of 
your wages ! ' ' 

" Am I to eat dry bread ? Where is the butter ? ' ' demanded 
Le Mulquinier, turning to Josette. 

"And where is the money to buy it with?" the cook 
answered tartly. "What, you old villain, if you can make 
gold in your devil's kitchen, why don't you make butter? It 
is not near so hard to make, and it would fetch something in 
the market, and go some way towards making the pot boil. 
All the rest of us are eating dry bread. The young ladies 
are living on dry bread and walnuts, and you want to be 
better fed than your betters? Mademoiselle has only a hun- 
dred francs a month to spend for the whole household ; there 
is only one dinner for us all. If you want luxuries, you have 
your furnaces upstairs, where you fritter away pearls, till they 
talk of nothing else all over the town. Just look for your 
roast fowls up there ! " 

Le Mulquinier took up his bread and left the kitchen. 

"He will buy something with his own money," said 
Martha; "all the better, it is so much saved. Isn't he a 
stingy old heathen?" 

"We must starve him, that is the only way," said Josette. 
" He has not waxed a single floor this week, that he hasn't ; 
he is always up above, and I am doing his work ; he may just 



158 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

as well pay me for it by treating us to a few herrings : if he 
brings any home I shall look after them." 

"Ah ! " said Martha, "there is Mile. Marguerite crying. 
Her old wizard of a father would gobble down the house 
without saying grace. In my country they would have burned 
him alive for a sorcerer long before this ; but they have no 
more religion here than Moorish infidels." 

In spite of herself, Mile. Claes was sobbing as she came 
through the gallery. She reached her room, sought for her 
mother's letter, and read as follows : 

" MY CHILD. If God so wills, my spirit will be with you 
as you read these lines, the last that I shall ever write ; they 
are full of love for my dear little ones, left to the mercy of a 
fiend who was too strong for me, a fiend who will have de- 
voured your last morsel of bread, as he gnawed my life and 
my love ! You knew, my darling, if I loved your father, and 
my love for him is failing now as I die, for I am taking pre- 
cautions against him : I am doing that which I could not bring 
myself to confess in my lifetime. Yes, in the depths of my 
grave I treasure a last resource for you, until the day comes 
when you will know the last extremity of misfortune. If he 
has brought you to absolute want, my child ; if the honor of 
our house is at stake, you must ask M. de Solis, if he is still 
living, or if not, his nephew, our good Emmanuel, for a hun- 
dred and seventy thousand francs, which are yours, and which 
will enable you to live. And if at last you find that nothing 
can check this passion, if the thought of his children's welfare 
proves no stronger a restraint than did a regard for my happi- 
ness, and he should wrong you still further, then leave your 
father, for your lives at any rate must not be sacrificed to his. 
I could not desert him ; my place was at his side. It rests 
with you, Marguerite, to save the family; you must protect 
Gabriel, Jean, and F6licie at all costs. Take courage, be the 
guardian angel of the Claes; and you must be firm, Mar- 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 159 

guerite, I dare not say be ruthless; but if the evil that has 
been already wrought is to be even partially repaired, you 
must save something, you must think of yourself as being on 
the brink of dire poverty, for nothing can stem the course of 
the passion which took all I had in the world from me. So, 
my child, out of the fulness of affection you must refuse to 
listen to the promptings of affection ; you may have to deceive 
your father, but the deceptions will be a glory to you, there 
will be hard things to say and do, and you will feel guilty, 
but they will be heroic deeds if they are done to protect your 
defenceless brothers and sister. Our good and upright M. de 
Solis assured me of this, and never was there a clearer and 
more scrupulous conscience than his. I could never have 
brought myself to speak the words I have written, not even at 
the point of death. And yet be tender and reverent in this 
hideous struggle; soften your refusals, and resist him on your 
knees. Not even death will have put an end to my sorrow 
and my tears. Kiss my dear children for me now that you 
are to become their sole guardian, and may God and all the 
saints be with you. JOSEPHINE." 

A receipt was enclosed from the Messieurs de Solis, uncle 
and nephew, for the amount deposited in their hands by Mme. 
Claes, which they undertook to refund to her children if her 
family should present the document. 

Marguerite called the old duenna, and Martha hurried up- 
stairs to her mistress, who bade her go to ask M. Emmanuel 
de Solis to come to the Maison Claes. 

"How noble and honorable he is!" she thought; "he 
never breathed a word of this to me, and he has made all my 
troubles and difficulties his." 

Emmanuel came before Martha had returned from her 
errand. 

"You have kept a secret which concerned me," she said, 
as she held out the paper. 



160 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

Emmanuel bent his head. 

" Marguerite, this means that you are in great distress?" he 
asked, and tears came to his eyes. 

" Ah ! yes. You will help me, you whom my mother calls 
'our good Emmanuel,' " she said, as she gave him the letter; 
and, in spite of her trouble, she felt a sudden thrill of joy that 
her mother approved her choice. 

" I have been ready to live or die for you ever since I saw 
you in the picture gallery," he answered, with tears of happi- 
ness and sorrow in his eyes; "but I did not know, and I 
waited, I did not even dare to hope that one day you would 
let me die for you. If you really know me, you know that 
my word is sacred, so you must forgive me for keeping my 
word to your mother ; I could only obey her wishes to the 
letter, I had no right to exercise my own judgment " 

"You have saved us ! " she broke in, as she took his arm, 
and they went down together to the parlor. 

When Marguerite had learned the history of the trust fund 
she told him the whole miserable story of the straits to which 
they were reduced. 

"We must meet the bills at once," said Emmanuel; "if 
they have been deposited with Mersktus, you will save interest 
on them. Then I will send you the remaining seventy 
thousand francs. My poor uncle left me that amount in gold 
ducats, so it will be easy to bring them here, and no one will 
know about it." 

"Yes," she said, "bring them at night ; our father will be 
asleep, and we can hide them somewhere. If he knew that I 
had any money, he might take it from me by force. Oh ! 
Emmanuel, to be suspicious of one's own father," she said, 
and burst into tears as she leaned her forehead against his 
breast. 

It was in this piteous and gracious entreaty for protection 
that Marguerite's love spoke for the first time ; love had been 
surrounded from its first beginnings by sorrow, and had grown 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 161 

familiar with pain, but her heart was too full, and at this last 
trouble it overflowed. 

" What is to be done ? What will become of us ? He sees 
nothing of all this ; he has not a thought for us nor for him- 
self, for I cannot think how he can live in the garret, it is like 
a furnace." 

" But what can you expect of a man who at every moment 
of his life cries, like Richard III., 'My kingdom for a 
horse?' " answered Emmanuel. " He will be inexorable, and 
you must be equally unyielding. You can pay his bills, and 
let him have your fortune if you will, but your brothers' and 
sister's money is neither yours nor his." 

"Let him have my fortune ! " she repeated, grasping Em- 
manuel's hand in hers, and looking at him with sparkling 
eyes. "This is your advice to me ? And Pierquin told me 
lies without end, for fear I should part with it." 

"Alas ! " he said, "perhaps I too am selfish after my own 
fashion. Sometimes I would have you without a penny, for it 
seems to me that so you would be nearer to me ; sometimes I 
would have you rich and happy, and then I feel how poor and 
petty it is to think that the empty pomp of wealth could keep 
us apart." 

" Dear ! let us talk no more about ourselves " 

"Ourselves!" he exclaimed in ecstasy; then after a mo- 
ment he went on, "The evil is great, no doubt, but it is not 
irreparable." 

" It lies with us to repair it ; the family has no longer a head. 
He has utterly forgotten all that he owes to himself and his 
children, and has lost all sense of right and wrong for he 
who was so high-minded, so generous, and so upright, who 
should have been his children's protector, has squandered 
their property in defiance of the law. To what depths he 
must have fallen ! Good God ! what can he expect to find ? " 

" Unluckily, dear Marguerite, however culpable he may be 
as the head of a family, he is quite right from a scientific 
11 



162 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

point of view to act as he does. Some score of men per- 
haps in all Europe are capable of understanding him and 
admire him, though every one else says that he is mad. Still, 
you are perfectly justified in refusing to surrender the chil- 
dren's money. There is an element of chance in every great 
discovery. If your father still persists in working out his 
problem, he will discover the solution without this reckless 
expenditure, and very possibly just at the moment when he 
gives it up as hopeless." 

"It is well for my poor mother that she died ! " said Mar- 
guerite. " She would have suffered a martyrdom a thousand 
times worse than death. The first shock of her collision 
with science killed her, and there seems to be no end to the 
struggle " 

" There will be an end to it," said Emmanuel, " when you 
have absolutely nothing left. There will be an end to M. 
Claes' credit, and then he will be forced to stop." 

"Then he may as well stop at once," said Marguerite, "for 
we have nothing left." 

M. de Solis bought up the bills and gave them to Marguerite. 
Balthazar came down to dinner a few minutes earlier than 
usual. For the first time in two years his daughter saw traces 
of emotion on his face, and his distress was painful to see. 
He was once more a father ; reason had put science to flight. 
He gave a glance into the courtyard, and then into the gar- 
den j and when he was sure that they were alone, he turned 
to his daughter with sadness and kindness in his face. 

"Dear child," he said, taking her hand and pressing it 
with earnest tenderness, " forgive your old father. Yes, Mar- 
guerite, I was in the wrong, and you were altogether right. I 
have not discovered the secret, so there is no excuse for me. 
I will go away from here. I cannot look on and see Van 
Claes sold," he went on, and his eyes turned to the martyr's 
portrait. " He died for the cause of freedom, and I shall die 
for science; he is revered, I am hated " 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 163 

" Hated, father? Oh ! no," she cried, throwing her arms 
about him; "we all adore you, do we not, Felicie," she 
asked of her sister, who came into the room at that moment. 

"What is it, father dear?" asked the little girl, slipping 
her hand into his. 

"I have ruined you all " 

" Eh ! " cried Felicie, " the boys will make a fortune for us. 
Jean is always at the head of his class. ' ' 

" Wait a moment, dear father," Marguerite added, and with 
a charming caressing gesture the daughter led her father to 
the chimney-piece, and drew several papers from beneath 
the clock ; " here are your drafts, but you must not sign your 
name to any more bills, for there will be nothing left to pay 
them with another time ' ' 

"Then you have some money?" Balthazar said in his 
daughter's ear, as soon as he had recovered from his surprise ; 
and with all her heroism, Marguerite's heart sank at the words. 
There was such frenzy of joy, and hope, and expectation in 
her father's face ; his eyes were wandering round the room as 
if in search of the money. 

" Yes, father," she said sadly, "I have my fortune." 

"Give it to me ! " he cried, with an eagerness which he 
could not control ; "I will give you back an hundredfold." 

"Yes, I will give it to you," said Marguerite, looking at 
her father, who did not understand the meaning that lay 
beneath his daughter's words. 

" Ah ! my dear child," he said, " you have saved my life ! 
I had thought out a final experiment, the one thing that re- 
mains to be tried. If I do not succeed this time, I must 
renounce the Quest of the Absolute altogether. Come here, 
darling, give me your arm ; if I can compass it, you shall be the 
happiest woman in the world ; you have given me fresh hopes 
of happiness and fame ; you have given me power ; I will 
heap riches upon you, and wealth, and jewels." 

He clasped both her hands in his and kissed her forehead, 



164 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

giving expression to his joy in caresses that seemed almost like 
abject gratitude to Marguerite. Balthazar had no eyes for any 
one else during the dinner ; he watched her with something 
like a lover's fondness and alert attention ; she could not 
move but he tried to read her thoughts and to guess her 
wishes, and waited on her with an assiduity which embarrassed 
her ; there was a youthfulness in his manner which contrasted 
strangely with his premature old age. But in reply to his 
caresses and attentions, Marguerite could only draw his atten- 
tion to their present distress, either by giving expression to 
her doubts, or by a glance at the empty tiers of shelves along 
the walls. 

" Pshaw ! " he said, " in six months' time we will fill them 
with gold-plate and wonders. You shall live like a queen in 
state. All the earth will be under our feet ; everything will 
be ours. And all through you, my Marguerite. Margarita ! " 
he mused smilingly, " the name was prophetic. Marguerite 
means a pearl. Sterne said that somewhere or other. Have 
you read Sterne ? Would you care to read Sterne ? It would 
amuse you." 

"They say that pearls are a result of some disease," she 
said bitterly, " and we have already suffered much." 

" Do not be sad ; you will make the fortune of those you 
love ; you will be rich and great " 

" Mademoiselle has such a good heart," said Le Mulquinier, 
and his colander countenance was distorted by a smile. 

The rest of the evening Balthazar spent with his daughters, 
and for them exerted all his powers of conversation and the 
charm of his personality. There was something magnetic in 
his looks and tones, a fascination like that of the serpent ; the 
genius and the kindly wit that had attracted Josephine were 
called into play ; he seemed, as it were, to take his daughters 
to his heart. When Emmanuel de Solis came, he found a 
family group; the father and children were talking as they 
had not done for a long time. In spite of himself, the young 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 165 

headmaster fell under the spell of the scene ; it was impossible 
to resist Balthazar's manner, de Solis was carried away by it. 
Men of science, however, deeply absorbed in watching quite 
other phenomena, bring highly-trained powers of perception 
to the least details of daily life. Nothing escapes their obser- 
vation in their own sphere ; they are not oblivious, but they 
keep to their own times and seasons, and are seldom in touch 
with the world that lies beyond that sphere ; they know every- 
thing, and forthwith forget it all ; they make forecasts of the 
future for their own sole benefit, foresee the events that take 
others by surprise, and keep their own counsel. If, while to 
all appearance they are unconscious of what is passing, they 
make use of their special gift of observation and deduction, 
they see and understand, and draw their own inferences, and 
there is an end of it ; work claims them again, and they 
seldom make any but a blundering use of their knowledge of 
the things of life. At times when they are roused from their 
social apathy, or if they happen to drop from the world of 
ideas to the world of men and women, they bring with them 
a well-stored memory, and are by no means strangers to what 
is happening there. 

So it was, manifestly, with Balthazar. He had quick 
sympathies as well as keen-sightedness, and knew the whole 
of his daughter's life; he had guessed or learned in some way 
the almost imperceptible events of the course of the mysterious 
love that bound her to Emmanuel ; he let the lovers feel that 
he had guessed their secret, and sanctioned their affection by 
sharing in it. From Marguerite's father this was the sweetest 
form of flattery, and they could not resist it. The evening 
thus spent was delightful after the troubled and anxious life 
the poor girls had led of late. When Balthazar at last left 
them, after they had basked, as it were, for a while in the 
sunlight of his presence, and bathed in his tenderness, Em- 
manuel de Solis' constrained manner changed ; he emptied 
his pockets of three thousand ducats, of which he had been 



166 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

uneasily conscious. He set them down on Marguerite's work- 
table, and she covered them with some house-linen which she 
was mending. Then he went back for the remainder. When 
he returned, Felicie had gone to bed. It was past eleven 
o'clock, and Martha, who was sitting up for her mistress, was 
still busy in Felicie's room. 

" Where shall I hide it ? " asked Marguerite ; she could not 
resist the temptation of passing the coins through her fingers, 
a childish freak, a moment's delay, which cost her dear ! 

"Those pedestals are hollow," said Emmanuel; "I will 
raise the column off its base, and we will slip the gold inside 
it: no one will think of looking there for it." 

But just as Marguerite was making the last journey but one 
between the work-table and the pedestal, she gave a shrill cry 
and let the piles of ducats fall, the paper in which they were 
wrapped gave way, and the gold coins rolled in all directions 
over the floor ; her father was standing in the doorway : his 
eager look terrified her. 

"What are you doing?" he asked, looking from his 
daughter, who stood transfixed with terror, to the startled de 
Solis, who had hastily risen to his feet too late, his kneeling 
position at the foot of the pedestal had been sufficient to be- 
tray him. 

The din of the falling gold rang hideously in their ears ; 
the coins lay scattered abroad on the floor, a sinister augury 
of the future. 

"I thought so," said Balthazar; "I felt sure that I heard 
the rattle of gold." 

He was almost as excited as the other two ; one thought 
possessed them both, and made their hearts beat so violently 
that the sounds could be heard in the great silence which sud- 
denly fell in the parlor. 

"Thank you, M. de Solis," said Marguerite, with a glance 
of intelligence, which said: "Play your part; help me to 
save the money." 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 167 

" What ! " cried Balthazar, with a clairvoyant glance at his 
daughter and Emmanuel, " then this gold ? " 

" Belongs to M. de Solis, who has been so good as to 
lend it to me that we may fulfil our engagements," she 
answered. 

M. de Solis reddened, and turned as if to go. 

"Monsieur," said Balthazar, laying a hand on his arm, 
"do not slip away from my grateful thanks." 

"You owe me no thanks, M. Claes. The money belongs 
to Mile. Marguerite ; she has borrowed it of me on security," 
he answered, looking at Marguerite, who thanked him by an 
almost imperceptible movement of her eyelids. 

"I cannot allow that," said Claes, taking up a pen and a 
sheet of paper from the table where Felicie had been writing. 
He turned to the two bewildered young people. 

" How much is there ! " he asked. 

Balthazar's ruling passion had made him craftier than the 
most cunning of deliberate scoundrels ; he meant to have the 
money in his own hands. Marguerite and Emmanuel de Solis 
hesitated. 

"Let us count it," said Balthazar. 

" There are six thousand ducats," Emmanuel said. 

" Seventy thousand francs," returned Claes. 

Marguerite and Emmanuel exchanged glances, and Em- 
manuel took courage. 

" M. Claes," he said respectfully, "your note of hand is 
worth nothing pardon the technical expression. This morn- 
ing I lent mademoiselle a hundred thousand francs to buy up 
the bills which you were unable to meet, so evidently you are 
not in a position to give me any security. This money be- 
longs to your daughter, who can dispose of it as seems good 
to her ; but I have only lent it with the understanding that 
she will sign a document giving me a claim on her share of 
the land at Waignies, on which the forest once stood." 

Marguerite turned her head away to hide the tears that 



168 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

filled her eyes. She knew Emmanuel's purity of heart. He 
had been brought up by his uncle in the most scrupulous 
practice of the virtues prescribed by religion ; she knew that 
he held lies in special abhorrence ; he had laid his life and his 
heart at her feet, and now he was sacrificing his conscience 
for her. 

"Good-night, M. de Solis," said Balthazar; "I had not 
looked for suspicion in one whom I regard almost with a 
father's eyes." 

Emmanuel gave Marguerite a piteous glance, and then 
crossed the courtyard with Martha, who closed and bolted the 
house door after the visitor had gone. 

As soon as the father and daughter were alone together, 
Claes said 

" You love him, do you not? " 

" Father, let us go straight to the point," she said. " You 
want this money? You shall never have any of it," and she 
began to gather up the scattered ducats, her father helping her 
in silence. Together they counted it over, Marguerite show- 
ing not a trace of distrust. When the gold was once more 
arranged in piles, Claes spoke in the tones of a desperate 
man 

" Marguerite, I must have the gold ! " 

"If you take it from me, it will be theft," she said coolly. 
"Listen to me, father; it would be far kinder to kill us out- 
right than to make us daily endure a thousand deaths. You 
see, one of us must give way " 

"So you would murder your father," he said. 

"We shall have avenged our mother's death," she said, 
pointing to the spot where Mme. Claes had died. 

"My child, if you only knew what is at stake, you would 
not say such things as these to me. Listen ! I will explain 
what the problem is. But you would not understand ! " he 
cried in despair. "After all, give it to me; believe in your 
father for once. Yes, I know that I gave your mother pain ; 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 169 

I know that I have squandered (for that is how ignorant 
people put it) my own fortune and made great inroads into 
yours ; I know that you think I am working for what you call 
madness, but, my angel, my darling, my. love, my Marguerite, 
just listen to me ! If I do not succeed this time, I will put 
myself in your hands ; all that you desire I will do ; I will 
give to you the obedience that you owe to me ; I will do your 
bidding, and administer my affairs as you shall direct ; I will 
be my children's guardian no longer ; I will lay down my 
authority. I swear it by your mother ! " he said, shedding 
tears as he spoke. 

Marguerite turned her head away; she could not bear to 
see his tears ; and Claes, thinking that this was a sign of 
yielding, flung himself on his knees before her. 

" Marguerite ! Marguerite ! give me the gold ! Give it to 
me to save yourself from eternal remorse. What are twenty 
thousand francs? You see, I shall die; this will kill me. 
Listen to me, Marguerite ! My promise shall be religiously 
kept. I will give up my experiments if I fail ; I will go 
away ; I will leave Flanders, and even France, if you wish it. 
I will begin again as a mechanic, and build up my fortune 
sou by sou, so that my children may recover at last all that 
science will have taken from them," he earnestly and piteously 
cried. 

Marguerite tried to persuade her father to rise, but he still 
knelt to her, and continued, with tears in his eyes 

" Be tender and devoted this once ; it is the last time. If 
I do not succeed, I myself will acquiesce in your harsh judg- 
ment. You can call me a madman, a bad father ; you can 
say that I am a fool, and I will kiss your hands ; beat me if 
you will, I will bless you as the best of daughters, remember- 
ing that you have given me your very life-blood." 

"Ah!" she cried, " if it were only my life-blood, you 
should have it ; but how can I look on and see my brothers 
and sister murdered in cold blood for science ? I cannot I 



170 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

Let it end ! " she cried, drying her tears, and putting away 
her father's caressing hand from her. 

"Seventy thousand francs and two months ! " he said, ris- 
ing in anger; " I want no more than that ! and my daughter 
bars my way to fame, my daughter stands between wealth 
and me, My curse upon you!" he went on, after a 
moment's pause. "You have neither a daughter's nor a 

woman's heart ! You will never be a wife nor a mother ! 

Let me have it ! Say the word, my dear little one, my pre- 
cious child. I will adore you ! " and he stretched out his hand 
with horrible eagerness towards the gold. 

"I cannot help myself if you take it by force, but God 
and the great Claes look down upon us now," said Mar- 
guerite, pointing to the portrait. 

" Then live, if you can, when your father's blood will be 
on your head ! " cried Balthazar, looking at her with abhor- 
rence. 

"He rose, looked round the parlor, and slowly left it; 
when he reached the door, he turned and came back as a 
beggar might, with an imploring gesture, a look of entreaty, 
but Marguerite only shook her head in reply. 

"Farewell, my daughter!" he said gently; "try to live 
happily," and he left the room, passing up the staircase with 
slow and measured steps. 

When he had gone, Marguerite stood for a while in dull 
bewilderment ; it seemed as if her whole world had slipped 
from her. She was no longer in the familiar parlor ; she was 
no longer conscious of her physical existence ; her soul had 
taken wings and soared to a world where thought annihilates 
time and space, where the veil drawn across the future is 
lifted by some divine power. It seemed to her that she lived 
through whole days between each sound of her father's foot- 
steps on the staircase ; and when she heard him moving above 
in his room, a cold shudder went through her. A sudden 
warning vision flashed like lightning through her brain ; she 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 171 

fled noiselessly up the dark staircase with the speed of an 
arrow, and saw her father pointing a pistol at his head. 

" Take it all ! " she cried, as she sprang towards him. 

She fell into a chair. At the sight of her white face, 
Balthazar began to weep such tears as old men shed ; he was 
like a child; he kissed her forehead, speaking incoherent, 
meaningless words ; he almost danced for joy, and tried to 
play with her as a lover plays with the mistress who has made 
him happy. 

"Enough of this, father!" she said; "remember your 
promise ! If you do not succeed, will you obey my wishes? " 

"Yes." 

"Oh, mother! " she cried, turning to the door of Mme. 
Claes' room, " you would have given it all to him, would you 
not?" 

" Sleep in peace," said Balthazar ; " you are a good girl." 

"Sleep!" she cried; "the nights that brought sleep are 
gone with my youth. You have made me old, father, just as 
you gradually blighted my mother's life." 

" Poor little one ! If I could only give you confidence, by 
explaining the results I hope to obtain from a grand experi- 
ment that I have just planned, you would see then " 

" I see nothing but our ruin," she said, rising to go. 

The next day was a holiday at the College de Douai. 
Emmanuel de Solis came with Jean to see them. 

" Well? " he asked anxiously, as he went up to Marguerite. 

" I gave way," she said. 

"My dear life," he answered, half-sorrowfully, half-gladly, 
" if you had not yielded, I should have admired you, but I 
adore you for your weakness." 

" Poor, poor Emmanuel ! what remains for us? " 

" Leave everything to me," he cried, with a radiant glance. 
" We love each other; it will be well with us." 

Several months went by in unbroken peace. M. de Solis 
made Marguerite see that her retrenchments and petty econo- 



172 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

mies were absolutely useless, and advised her to live comfort- 
ably, and to use the remainder of the money which Mme. 
Claes had deposited with him for the expenses of the house- 
hold. All through those months Marguerite was harassed by 
the anxiety which had proved too heavy a burden for her 
mother ; for, little as she was disposed to believe in her 
father's promises, she was driven to hope in his genius. It is 
a strange and inexplicable thing that we so often continue to 
hope when we have no faith left. Hope is the flower of desire, 
and faith is the fruit of certainty. 

"If my father succeeds, we shall be happy," Marguerite 
told herself; Claes and Le Mulquinier said, " We shall suc- 
ceed ! " but Claes and Le Mulquinier were alone in their belief. 
Unluckily, Balthazar grew more and more depressed day by 
day. Sometimes he did not dare to meet his daughter's eyes 
at dinner ; sometimes, on the other hand, he looked at her in 
triumph. Marguerite spent her evenings in seeking explana- 
tions of legal difficulties, with young de Solis as her tutor ; 
she was always asking her father about their complicated 
family relationships. At last her masculine education was 
complete ; she was ready with plans to put into execution if 
her father should once more be worsted in the duel with his 
antagonist the Unknown X. 

About the beginning of July, Balthazar spent a whole day 
on a bench in the garden, absorbed in sad thoughts. Once 
and again he looked about him, at the bare garden beds, 
which had once been gay with tulips, at the windows of his 
wife's room, and shuddered, doubtless at the recollection of 
all that this quest had cost him. He stirred from time to 
time, and it was plain that he thought of other things than 
science. Just before dinner, Marguerite took up her needle- 
work, and came out to sit beside him for a few minutes. 

"Well, father, you have not succeeded?" 

" No, my child." 

" Ah ! " Marguerite said gently, " I am not going to utter 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 173 

a word of reproach ; indeed, we are both equally to blame ; 
but I must claim the fulfillment of your promise ; your promise 
is surely sacred you are a Claes. Your children will never 
show you anything but love and respect ; but from to-day you 
are in my hands, and must do as I wish. Do not be anxious ; 
my rule will be mild, and I will do my best to bring it quickly 
to an end. I am going to leave you for a month Martha is 
going with me so that I may see after your affairs," she 
added, with a kiss, " for you are my child now, you know. 
So Felicie will be left in charge. Poor child ! she is barely 
seventeen ; how can she resist you ? Be generous, and do not 
ask her for a penny, for she has nothing beyond what is strictly 
necessary for the housekeeping expenses. Take courage ; give 
up your investigations and your theories for two or three 
years, your ideas will mature, and by that time I shall have 
saved the necessary money, and the problem shall be solved. 
Now, then, tell me, is not your queen a kind and merciful 
sovereign?" 

" So all is not yet lost ! " the old man answered. 

" No, if you will only keep your word." 
v 'I will obey you, Marguerite," said Claes, deeply moved. 

Next morning M. Conyncks came from Cambrai for his 
grand-niece. He had come in his traveling carriage, and only 
stayed in his cousin's house until Marguerite and Martha could 
complete the preparations for their journey. M. Claes made 
his cousin welcome, but he was evidently downcast and 
humiliated. Old M. Conyncks guessed Balthazar's thoughts; 
and as they sat at breakfast, he said, with clumsy frankness 

" I have a few of your pictures, cousin ; I have a liking for 
a good picture ; it is a ruinous mania, but we all have our 
weaknesses ' ' 

" Dear uncle," remonstrated Marguerite. 

" They say you are ruined, cousin ; but a Claes always has 
treasures here," he said, tapping his forehead, "and here 
too, has he not?" he added, laying his hand on his heart. 



174 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

"I believe in you, moreover, and having a few spare crowns 
in my purse, I am using them in your service." 

"Ah!" cried Balthazar, "I will repay you with treas- 
ures." 

"The only treasures we have in Flanders, cousin, are pa- 
tience and hard work," said Conyncks sternly. Our ancestor 
there has the two words graven on his forehead," he added, 
as he pointed to the portrait of Van Claes. 

Marguerite kissed her father and bade him good-bye, gave 
her last parting directions to Josette and Felicie, and set out 
for Paris with her great-uncle. He was a widower with one 
daughter, a girl of twelve, and the owner of an immense for- 
tune ; it was not impossible that he might think of marrying 
again, and the good people of Douai believed that Marguerite 
was destined to be his second wife. Rumors of this great 
match for Marguerite reached Pierquin's ears, and brought 
him back to the Maison Claes. Considerable changes had 
been wrought in the views of that wide-awake worthy. 

Society in Douai had been divided for the past two years 
into two hostile camps. The noblesse formed one group, and 
the bourgeoisie the other; and, not unnaturally, the latter 
cordially hated the former. This sharp division, in fact, 
was not confined to Douai ; it suddenly split France into 
two rival nations, small jealous squabbles assumed serious pro- 
portions and contributed not a little to the widespread ac- 
ceptance of the Revolution of July, 1830. There was a third 
party occupying an intermediate position between the ultra- 
Monarchical and ultra-Liberal camps, to wit, the officials who 
belonged socially to one or other circle, but who, on the 
downfall of the Bourbons from power, immediately became 
neutral. At the outset of the struggle between the noblesse 
and the bourgeoisie the most unheard-of splendor was dis- 
played at coffee parties. The Royalists made such brilliantly 
successful efforts to eclipse their Liberal rivals that these epi- 
curean festivities were said to have cost some enthusiastic 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 175 

politicians their lives ; like ill-cast cannon, they could not 
stand such practice. Naturally the two circles became more 
and more restricted and fanatical. 

Pierquin, though a very wealthy man as provincial fortunes 
go, found himself excluded from the aristocratic circle and 
driven back upon the bourgeoisie. His self-love had suffered 
considerably in the process ; he had received rebuff upon re- 
buff ; gradually the men with whom he had formerly rubbed 
shoulders dropped his acquaintance. He was forty years of 
age, the limit of time when a man who contemplates marriage 
can think of taking a young wife. The matches to which he 
might aspire were among the bourgeoisie, but his ambition 
looked longingly back towards the aristocratic world from 
which he had been thrust, and he cast about for a creditable 
alliance which should reinstate him there. The Claes family 
lived so much out of the world that they knew nothing of all 
these social changes. Claes, indeed, belonged by birth to 
the old aristocracy of the province, but it seemed not at all 
likely that, absorbed as he was by scientific interests, he would 
share in the recently introduced class prejudices. However 
poor she might be, a daughter of the house of Claes would 
bring with her the dower of gratified vanity, which is eagerly 
coveted by all parvenues. 

Pierquin, therefore, renewed his visits to the Maison Claes. 
He had made up his mind to this marriage, and to attain his 
social ambitions at all costs. He bestowed his company on 
Balthazar and Felicie in Marguerite's absence, and discovered, 
rather late in the day, that he had a formidable rival in Em- 
manuel de Solis. Emmanuel's late uncle the Abbe had left 
his nephew no inconsiderable amount of property, it was 
said ; and in the eyes of the notary, who looked at everything 
from an undisguisedly material standpoint, Emmanuel in the 
character of his uncle's heir was a rival to be dreaded : Pier- 
quin was more disquieted by Emmanuel's money than by his 
attractive personality. Wealth restored all its lustre to the 



176 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

name of de Soils. Gold and noble birth were twin glories 
that reflected splendor upon each other. The notary saw that 
the young headmaster treated Felicie as a sister, and he 
became jealous of this sincere affection. He tried to eclipse 
Emmanuel, mingling conventional phrases of gallantry with 
the small talk of the day, and the airs of a man of fashion 
with the dreamy, pensive melancholy which was not ill suited 
to his face. He had lost all his illusions, he said, and turned 
his eyes on Felicie as if to let her know that she, and she 
alone, could reconcile him with life. And Felicie, to whom 
compliments and flattery were a novelty, listened to the 
language which is always sweet to hear, even when it is insin- 
cere ; she mistook his emptiness for depth ; she had nothing 
to occupy her mind, and her cousin became the object of the 
vague sentiments that filled her heart. Possibly, though she 
herself was not conscious of the fact, she was jealous of the 
attentions which Emmanuel showed her sister, and she wished 
to be likewise some man's first thought. Pierquin soon saw 
that Felicie showed more attention to him than to Emmanuel, 
and this encouraged him to persist in his attempt, until he 
went farther than he had intended. Emmanuel looked on, 
watching the beginning of this passion, simulated in the law- 
yer, artlessly sincere in Felicie, whose future was at stake. 
Whispered phrases were exchanged between the cousins when 
Emmanuel's back was turned, little colloquies, trifling decep- 
tions, which gave to the stolen words and glances a treacherous 
sweetness that might give rise to innocent errors. 

Pierquin hoped and intended to turn his intimacy with 
Felicie to his own account, and to discover Marguerite's 
reasons for taking the journey to Paris ; he wanted to know 
whether there was any question of her marriage, and whether 
he must renounce his pretensions ; but, in spite of his trans- 
parent manoeuvres, neither Balthazar nor Felicie could throw 
any light on the subject, for the very sufficient reason that 
they themselves knew nothing of Marguerite's plans ; on her 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 177 

accession to power she seemed to have adopted the maxims of 
statecraft, and had kept her own counsel. 

Balthazar's brooding melancholy and depression made the 
evenings tedious. Emmanuel had succeeded in persuading 
him to play at backgammon, but Balthazar's thoughts were 
elsewhere all the while ; and, as a rule, the great chemist, 
with all his intellectual powers, seemed positively stupid. His 
expectations had come to nothing ; his humiliation was great ; 
he had squandered three fortunes ; he was a penniless gambler ; 
he was crushed beneath the ruins of his house, beneath the 
burden of hopes that were disappointed but not extinct. The 
man of genius, curbed by necessity, acquiescing in his own 
condemnation, was a tragic spectacle which would have 
touched the most unfeeling nature. Pierquin himself could 
not but feel an involuntary respect for this caged lion with 
the look of baffled power in the eyes which were calm by 
reason of despair, and faded from excess of light ; there was 
a mute entreaty for charity in them which the lips did not 
dare to frame. Sometimes his face suddenly lighted up as he 
devised a new experiment ; and then Balthazar's eyes would 
travel round the room to the spot where his wife had died, 
and tears like burning grains of sand would cross the arid 
pupils of his eyes, grown over-large with thought, and his 
head would drop on his breast. He had lifted the world like 
a Titan, and the world had rolled back heavily on his breast. 
This giant sorrow, controlled so manfully, had its effect on 
Pierquin and Emmanuel, who at times felt so much moved 
by it that they were ready to offer him a sum of money 
sufficient for another series of experiments so infectious are 
the convictions of genius ! Both young men began to under- 
stand how Mme. Claes and Marguerite could have flung 
millions into the abyss ; but reflection checked the impulses 
of their hearts, and their good-will manifested itself in attempts 
at consolation which increased the anguish of the fallen and 
stricken Titan. 
12 



178 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

Claes never mentioned his oldest daughter, showed no 
uneasiness at her prolonged absence, and did not appear to 
notice her silence, for she wrote neither to him nor to Felicie. 
He seemed to be displeased if Solis or Pierquin asked him for 
news of her. Did he suspect that Marguerite was plotting 
against him ? Did he feel himself lowered in his own eyes 
now that he had abdicated and made over his rights as a 
father to his child ? Had he come to love her less because 
they had changed places ? Perhaps all these things counted 
for something, and mingled with other and vaguer feelings 
which overclouded his soul ; he chose to say nothing of Mar- 
guerite, as though she were in some sort of disgrace. 

Great men, however great, known or unknown, lucky or 
unlucky in their endeavors, are still human, and have their 
weaknesses. Unluckily, too, they are condemned to suffer 
doubly, for their qualities as well as for their defects; and 
perhaps Balthazar was as yet unused to the pangs of a 
wounded vanity. The days, the evenings which all four 
spent together, were full of melancholy, and overshadowed 
by vague, uneasy apprehensions, while Marguerite was away. 
They were days like a barren waste ; they were not utterly 
without consolations, a few flowers bloomed here and there 
for them to pluck, but the house seemed to be shrouded in 
gloom in the absence of the oldest daughter, who had come 
to be its life and hope and strength. In this way two months 
went by, and Balthazar patiently awaited his daughter's return. 

Marguerite came back to Douai with her uncle, who did 
not immediately return to Cambrai. Doubtless he meant to 
give support to his niece in an impending crisis. Marguerite's 
return was the occasion of a small family rejoicing. The 
notary and M. de Solis had been invited to dinner by Felicie 
and Balthazar ; and when the traveling carriage stopped be- 
fore the door of the house, all four appeared to receive the 
travelers with great demonstrations of joy. Marguerite 
seemed glad to be at home in her father's house again ; tears 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 179 

filled her eyes as she crossed the courtyard and went to the 
parlor. As she put her arms round her father's neck, 
other thoughts had mingled with the girl's kiss, and she 
blushed like a guilty wife who cannot dissemble ; but when 
she saw Emmanuel, the troubled look died out of her eyes, 
the sight of him seemed to give her courage for the task she 
had secretly set herself. In spite of the cheerfulness on every 
face and the gaiety of the talk at dinner, father and daughter 
studied each other with distrust and curiosity. Balthazar did 
not ask Marguerite a single question as to her stay in Paris, 
paternal dignity doubtless prevented him ; Emmanuel de Solis 
was equally discreet ; but Pierquin, who had so long been 
acquainted with all the secrets of the family, did not avoid 
the subject, and concealed his inquisitiveness under an assump- 
tion of geniality. 

"Well, dear cousin," he said, "did you see Paris, and the 
theatres ?" 

"I saw nothing of Paris," she answered; "I only went 
out when I was obliged to go. The days went by very tedi- 
ously for me ; I was longing to see Douai again." 

" If I had not made a fuss, she would not have gone to the 
opera; and when she did, she found it tiresome! " said M. 
Conyncks. 

None of them felt at their ease that evening, the smiles 
were constrained, a painful anxiety lurked beneath the forced 
gaiety ; it was a trying occasion. Marguerite and Balthazar 
were both tortured by doubts and fears, and the others seemed 
to feel this. As the evening wore on, the faces of the father 
and daughter betrayed their agitation more plainly; and 
though Marguerite did her best to smile, her nervous move- 
ments, her glances, the tones of her voice, betrayed her. M. 
Conyncks and Emmanuel de Solis seemed to understand the 
noble girl's agitation, and to bid her take courage by expres- 
sive glances ; and Balthazar, hurt at not being taken into con- 
fidence while steps were taken and matters decided which 



180 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

concerned him, gradually became more and more reserved, 
and at last sat silent among his children and friends. Shortly, 
no doubt, Marguerite would inform him of her decisions. 
For a great man and a father the situation was intolerable. 

Balthazar had reached the time of life when things are 
usually freely discussed with the children of the family, when 
capacity for feeling is increased by wider experience of life ; 
his face grew graver, more thoughtful, and troubled as the 
time of his extinction as a citizen drew nearer. 

A crisis in the family life was impending, a crisis of which 
some idea can only be given by a metaphor. The clouds that 
bore a thunderbolt in their midst had gathered and darkened 
the sky, while they laughed below in the fields ; every one 
felt the heat and the coming storm, looked up at the heavens, 
and hurried on his way. 

M. Conyncks was the first to go, Balthazar went with him 
to his room, and Pierquin and Emmanuel took their leave in 
his absence. Marguerite bade the notary a friendly good- 
night ; she said nothing to Emmanuel, but she clasped his 
hand tightly, and the tears stood in her eyes as she looked at 
him. She sent Felicie away, and when Claes came back to 
the parlor she was sitting there alone. 

" My kind father," she said in a tremulous voice, " I could 
not have brought myself to leave home but for the gravity of 
our position ; but now, after agonies of hope and fear, and in 
spite of unheard-of difficulties, I have brought back with me 
some chance of salvation for us all. Thanks partly to your 
name, partly to our uncle's influence, and the interest of M. 
de Solis, we have obtained the post of Receiver of Taxes in 
Brittany for you ; it is worth eighteen to twenty thousand 
francs a year, they say. Our uncle has undertaken to be 
security for you. Here is your appointment," she added, 
drawing a paper fromlher reticule. "For the next few years 
we must retrench and be content with bare necessaries; you 
would find it intolerable to live on here in the house ; our 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 181 

father ought at least to live as he has always been accustomed 
to live. I shall not ask you to spare any of your income for 
us ; you will spend it as seems good to you. But I entreat 
you to remember that we have no income, not a penny except 
from the amount invested in the funds for Gabriel he always 
sends the interest to us. We will live as if the house were a 
convent ; no one in the town shall hear anything about our 
economies. If you lived on here in Douai, you would be a 
positive hindrance to us in our efforts to restore comfort. Am 
I abusing the authority you gave to me when I put you in a 
position to re-establish your fortune yourself? In a few years' 
time, if you choose, you will be Receiver-General." 

" So, Marguerite," Balthazar said in a low voice, "you are 
driving me out of my house " 

" I did not deserve such a bitter reproach," said Marguerite, 
controlling the emotions that surged up in her heart. " You 
will come back again among us as soon as you can live in your 
native town in a manner befitting your name. Besides, did 
you not give me your promise, father? " she went on coldly. 
" You must do what I ask of you. Our uncle is waiting to 
go with you to Brittany, so that you may not have to travel 
alone." 

"I shall not go ! " cried Balthazar, rising to his feet; "I 
stand in need of no one's assistance to re-establish my fortune 
and to pay all that is owing to my children." 

"You had better go," said Marguerite, with no sign of 
agitation in her manner. " I ask you simply to think over 
our respective positions. I can put the case before you in a 
very few words ; if you stay in the house, your children will 
go out of it, that you may be the master." 

" Marguerite ! " cried Balthazar. 

" And the next thing to do," she went on, without heeding 
her father's anger, " will be to inform the minister of your 
refusal to accept a lucrative and honorable post. We should 
never have obtained it, in spite of interest and influence, if 



182 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

our uncle had not adroitly slipped several notes for a thousand 
francs into a certain lady's glove " 

" All of you will leave me ! " 

"Yes. If you do not leave us, we must leave you," she 
answered. " If I were your only child, I would follow my 
mother's example ; I would not murmur at my fate, whatever 
you might bring upon me. But my brothers and sister shall 
not die of hunger and despair under your eyes; I promised 
this to her who died there," she said, pointing to her mother's 
bed. " We have hidden our troubles from you, and endured 
them in silence, but our strength fails us now. We are not on 
the brink of a precipice ; we are in its lowest depths, father ! 
And if we are to extricate ourselves, we want something be- 
sides courage ; all our efforts must not be continually thwarted 
by the freaks of a passion ' ' 

" My dear children ! " cried Balthazar, seizing Marguerite's 
hand, " I will help you ; I will work with you ; I 

" This is the way," she answered, holding out the minister's 
letter. 

" But, my darling, it would take too long to restore my 
fortune in this way that you are pointing out to me. The 
results of ten years of work will be lost, as well as the enor- 
mous sums of money which the laboratory represents. Our 
resources are up there," he said, indicating the garret. 

Marguerite went towards the door, saying, " Choose for 
yourself, father! " 

"Ah ! my daughter, you are very hard ! " he answered, as 
he sat down in an armchair; but he let her go. 

Next morning Marguerite learned from Le Mulquinier that 
M. Claes had gone out. She turned pale at this simple an- 
nouncement, and her face spoke so eloquently of cruel anxiety 
that the old servant said, "Do not alarm yourself, mademoi- 
selle ; the master said he would come back again at eleven 
o'clock to breakfast. He never went to bed at all last night. 
At two o'clock this morning he was standing by one of the 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 183 

windows in the parlor looking out at the roof of the laboratory. 
I was sitting up, waiting in the kitchen ; I saw him, he was 
crying, he is in trouble ; and here is the famous month of 
July again, when the sun has power enough to make us all 
rich, and if you only " 

" That is enough ! " said Marguerite. She knew now what 
the thoughts were that had harassed her father. 

As a matter of fact, it had come to pass with Balthazar, as 
with all domestic people, that his life was inseparable, as it 
were, from the places which had become a part of it. His 
thoughts were wedded to his house and laboratory; he did 
not know how to do without the familiar surroundings; he 
was like a speculator, who is at a loss to know what to do 
with himself on public holidays when he cannot go on 'Change. 
All his hopes dwelt there in his laboratory ; it was the one 
spot under heaven where he could breathe vital air. This 
clinging to familiar things and places, so strong an instinct in 
weak natures, becomes almost tyrannous in men of science 
and learning. Balthazar Claes was to leave his house'; for 
him this meant that he must renounce his science and his 
problem, or, in other words, that he must die. 

Marguerite was in the last extremity of anxiety and fear 
until breakfast-time. The thought of Balthazar's attempt to 
take his life after a similar scene came to her memory, and she 
feared that her father had found a tragic solution of his diffi- 
culties ; she walked up and down in the parlor, and shuddered 
every time the bell rang at the door. Balthazar at last came 
back. Marguerite watched him cross the court, and, gazing 
anxiously at his face, could read nothing but the traces of all 
that storm of grief in its expression. When he came into the 
parlor she went up to him to wish him good-morning ; he put 
his arms affectionately about her waist, drew her to his breast, 
kissed her forehead, and said in her ear 

" I have been to see about my passport." 

The tones of her father's voice, his resignation, his caress 



184 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

almost broke poor Marguerite's heart ; she turned her head 
away to hide the tears which she could not keep back, fled 
into the garden, and only came back when she had wept at 
her ease. During breakfast Balthazar was in great spirits, like 
a man who has decided on his course. 

" So we are to start for Brittany, uncle, are we? " he said 
to M. Conyncks. " I have always thought I should like to 
see Brittany." 

"Living is cheap there," the old uncle remarked. 

" Is father going to leave us? " cried Felicie. 

M. de Solis came in with Jean at that moment. 

"You will let him spend the day with us," said Balthazar, 
as Jean came to sit beside him ; " I am going away to-morrow, 
and I want to bid him good-bye." 

Emmanuel looked across at Marguerite, who hung her head. 
It was a melancholy day ; every one felt sad ; every one tried 
not to give way to painful thoughts or to tears. This was no 
ordinary parting ; it was an exile. And then, every one in- 
stinctively felt how humiliating it was for a father thus to 
proclaim his losses by leaving his family and accepting the 
post of a paid official at Balthazar's time of life ; but he was 
as magnanimous as Marguerite was firm, and submitted with 
dignity to the penance imposed on him for the errors which 
he had committed when carried away by his genius. When 
the evening was over, and the father and daughter were alone, 
Balthazar held out his hand to Marguerite. He had been 
as gentle and affectionate all through the day as in the happiest 
days of the past; and with a strange tenderness, in which 
despair was mingled, he asked, "Are you satisfied with your 
father?" 

"You are worthy of him" answered Marguerite, turning to 
the portrait of Van Claes. 

Next morning Balthazar, followed by Le Mulquiner, went 
into his laboratory to take leave of his cherished hopes. 
Master and man exchanged melancholy glances as they stood 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 185 

on the threshold of the garret. Everything was in working 
order, as though those hopes had not yet perished, and they 
were about to leave it all, perhaps forever. Balthazar looked 
round at the apparatus about which his thoughts had hovered 
for so long ; there was nothing there but had its associations for 
him, and had borne a part in his experiments or his investiga- 
tions. Dejectedly he bade Le Mulquinier set free the gases, 
evaporate the more noxious acids, and take precautions against 
possible explosions. As he saw to all these details, bitter regrets 
broke from him, as from a man condemned to death when 
they are about to lead him to the scaffold. 

"Just look ! " he said, stopping before a capsule in which 
the two wires of a voltaic battery were immersed ; " we ought to 
wait to see the result of this experiment. If it were to succeed 
my children would not drive their father from his house when 
he could fling diamonds at their feet. Hideous thought ! 
Here is a combination of carbon and sulphur, in which the 
carbon plays the part of an electro-positive body ; crystalliza- 
tion should commence at the negative pole, and in the case 
of decomposition the carbon would be deposited there in a 
crystalline form." 

"Ah ! that is what it will do ! " said Le Mulquinier, look- 
ing admiringly at his master. 

" But," Balthazar went on after a moment of silence, " the 
combination is submitted to the influence of that battery 
which might act " 



" If monsieur desires it, I will soon increase- 



" No, no; it must be left just as it is. That sort of 
crystallization requires time, and must be left undisturbed." 

" Confound it ! the crystallization is long enough about 
it ! " cried the manservant. 

" If the temperature were to fall, the sulphide of carbon 
would crystallize," Balthazar said, letting fall stray links of a 
chain of ideas which was complete in his own mind; "but 
suppose the action of the battery is brought to bear on it 



186 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

under certain conditions which I do not know how to set up. 

This ought to be carefully watched ; it is possible. 

But what am I thinking of? There is to be no more chem- 
istry for us, my friend ; we must keep books in a receiver's 
office somewhere in Brittany." 

Claes hurried away and went down stairs to breakfast in his 
own house for the last time. Pierquin and M. de Solis had 
joined them. Balthazar was anxious to put an end to the 
death-agony of science, said farewell to his children, and 
stepped into the carriage after his uncle ; all the family came 
with him to the threshold of the door. There, as Marguerite 
clung to her father in despair, he answered her mute appeal, 
saying in her ear, " You are a good child ; I bear you no ill- 
will, Marguerite." 

Marguerite crossed the courtyard, and took refuge in the 
parlor; kneeling on the spot where her mother died, she 
made a fervent prayer to God to give her strength to bring 
the heavy task of her new life to a successful end. She felt 
stronger already, for an inner voice echoed the applause of 
angels through her heart, and with it mingled the thanks of 
her mother, her sister, and brothers. Emmanuel and Pier- 
quin came in ; they had watched the traveling carriage till it 
was out of sight. 

"Now, mademoiselle, what will you do next ! " inquired 
Pierquin. 

"Save the family," she said simply. "We have about 
thirteen hundred acres of land at Waignies. I mean to have 
it cleared, and to divide it up into three farms, to erect the 
necessary farm buildings, and then to let them. I feel sure 
that in a few years' time, with plenty of patience and prudence, 
each of us three," she said, turning to her brother and sister, 
" will possess a farm of about four hundred acres, which some 
day or other will bring us in fifteen thousand francs yearly. 
My brother Gabriel's share must be this house and the consols 
that stand in his name. Then we will pay off our father's 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 187 

debts by degrees, and give him back his estates when the time 
comes." 

"But, dear cousin," said Pierquin, amazed at Marguerite's 
clear-headedness and calm summing-up of the situation, " you 
will want more than two hundred thousand francs if you are 
going to clear the land and build steadings and buy cattle. 
Where is the money to come from?" 

"That is just where the difficulty comes in," she said, 
looking from the lawyer to Emmanuel de Solis; " I cannot 
venture to ask any more of my uncle ; he has already become 
security for our father." 

" You have friends ! " cried Pierquin. It suddenly struck 
him that even yet the Claes girls were worth more than five 
hundred thousand francs apiece. 

Emmanuel looked at Marguerite tenderly ; but Pierquin, 
unluckily for him, was still a notary in the midst of his enthu- 
siasm. He answered accordingly, "lean let you have two 
hundred thousand francs ! " 

Emmanuel and Marguerite sought counsel of each other by 
a glance, a glance that sent a ray of light through Pierquin's 
brain. Felicie blushed up to the eyes ; she was so glad that 
her cousin had proved as generous as she had wished. Mar- 
guerite looked at her sister, and guessed the truth at once ; 
during her absence the poor child's heart had been won by 
Pierquin's meaningless gallantry. 

"You shall only pay me five per cent.," he added, "and 
repay me when you like ; you can give me a mortgage on your 
farms. But do not trouble yourself about it ; you shall have 
nothing to do but to pay the money when all the contracts are 
completed ; I will find you some good tenants, and look after 
everything for you. I will do it all for nothing, and stand 
by you like a trusty kinsman." 

Emmanuel made a sign to Marguerite, beseeching her to 
refuse this offer, but she was too much absorbed in watching 
the shades of expression that crossed her sister's face to notice 



188 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

him. After a moment's silence she turned to the lawyer with 
an ironical glance, and answered of her own accord, to M. de 
Solis' great joy. 

" You have stood by us, cousin," she said ; "I should have 
expected no less of you ; but we want to free the estates as 
quickly as possible, and the five per cent, interest would ham- 
per us ; I shall wait till my brother comes of age, and we will 
sell his stock." 

Pierquin bit his lips ; Emmanuel began to smile gently. 

" Felicie, dear child, take Jean back to school," said Mar- 
guerite, glancing at her brother. "Take Martha with you. 
Be very good, Jean, my darling, and do not tear your clothes; 
we are not rich enough now to buy new ones for you as often 
as we used to do. There, run away, little man, and work 
hard at your lessons." 

Felicie went out with her brother. 

"Cousin," said Marguerite to Pierquin, "and you, mon- 
sieur," she added, turning to M. de Solis, "you have doubt- 
less come to visit my father while I was away? I am grateful 
to you for this proof of your friendship, and I am sure that 
you will do no less for two poor girls who will stand in need 
of your advice. Let us understand each other clearly. When 
I am in Douai I shall always see you with the greatest pleas- 
sure ; but when Felicie will be left here with no one but 
Josette and Martha, I need not tell you that she can receive 
no visitors, not even an old friend and a cousin so devoted to 
our interests. In our position we must not give the slightest 
occasion for gossip. We must give our minds to our work for 
a long time to come and live in solitude." 

For several moments no one spoke. Emmanuel, deeply 
absorbed in watching Marguerite's face, was dumb ; Pierquin 
was at a loss what to say, and took leave of his cousin. He 
felt furious with himself; he suddenly perceived that Mar- 
querite loved Emmanuel, and that he had acted like the 
veriest fool. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 189 

"Look here, Pierquin, my friend," said he to himself, as 
he went along the street, "anyone who called you an ass 
would say nothing but truth. What a stupid dolt I am ! I 
have twelve thousand livres a year beside my professional 
income, to say nothing of my uncle des Racquets; all his 
money will come to me some of these days, and I shall have 
as much again then (after all, I don't want him to die, he is 
thrifty), and I was graceless enough to ask Mile. Claes for 
interest ! No ! After all, Felicie is a sweet and good little 
thing, who will suit me better. Marguerite has a will like 
iron ; she would want to rule me, and she would rule me ! 
Come, let us show ourselves generous, Pierquin, let us have 
less of the notary. I cannot shake off old habits. Bless me ! 
I will fall in love with Felicie, those are my sentiments, and I 
mean to stick to them. Goodness, yes ! She will have a 
farm of her own four hundred and thirty acres of good 
land, for the soil at Waignies is rich, and before long it will 
bring in from fifteen to twenty thousand livres yearly. My 
uncle des Racquets dies (poor old gentleman !), I sell my 
practice, and I am a man of leisure worth fifty thousand 
livres a year, fif ty thou sand livres ! My wife is a Claes ; 
I am connected with several families of distinction. Diantre / 
Then we shall see if Savaron de Savarus, the Courtevilles, and 
Magalhens will decline to visit a Pierquin-Claes-Molina- 
Nourho ! I will be mayor of Douai ; I shall have the Cross 
of the Legion of Honor ; I can be a deputy, nothing will be 
beyond my reach. So look out, Pierquin, my boy, and let 
us have no more nonsense, inasmuch as, upon my honor, 
Felicie Mademoiselle Felicie Van Claes is in love with 
you." 

When the two lovers were alone, Emmanuel held out his 
hand, and Marguerite could not help laying her right hand 
in his. The same impulse made them both rise to their 
feet, and turn to go towards their bench in the garden ; 
but in the middle of the parlor her lover could not control 



190 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

his joy, and in a voice that trembled with emotion, he said 
to Marguerite 

"I have three hundred thousand francs that belong to 
you ' 

" How is that? " she cried; "did my poor mother leave 

other sums for us in your keeping ? No ? Then how is 

this?" 

"Oh! my Marguerite, what is mine is yours, is it not? 
Were you not the first to say we ? " 

"Dear Emmanuel ! " she said, pressing the hand that she 
still held, and instead of going into the garden, she sat down 
in a low chair. 

"It is I who should thank you," he said, with love in his 
voice, "since you accept it from me." 

"Dear love," she said, "this moment atones for many 
sorrows, and brings us nearer to a happy future ! Yes, I will 
accept your fortune," she continued, and an angelic smile 
hovered about her mouth; "I know of a way to make it 
mine." 

She looked up at Van Claes' portrait, as if calling on her 
ancestor to be a witness. Emmanuel de Solis had followed 
the direction of her eyes ; he did not see her draw a little 
ring from her finger ; he did not notice that she had done so 
until he heard the words 

" Out of the depths of our sorrow one comfort has arisen ; 
my father's indifference leaves me free to dispose of myself," 
she said, holding out the ring. " Take it, Emmanuel ; my 
mother loved you, she would have chosen you." 

Tears came to Emmanuel's eyes ; he turned pale, fell on 
his knees, and said to Marguerite, as he gave her the ring that 
he always wore 

" Here is my mother's wedding ring " (and he kissed the 
little golden hoop). " My Marguerite, shall I have no pledge 
but this?" he asked, pointing to the ring she had given 
him. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 191 

She bent forward, and Emmanuel's lips touched her fore- 
head. 

"Alas! poor love, are we not doing wrong?" she said 
in a trembling voice. " We shall have to wait for a long 
while." 

"My uncle used to say that adoration was the daily bread 
of patience ; he spoke of the Christian's love of God ; but 
in this way I can love you, Marguerite; for a long while 
the thought of you has mingled with the thought of God 
so that I cannot separate them; I am yours, as I am His." 

For a few moments they remained rapt in the sweetest 
ecstasy. Their feelings were poured out as quietly and nat- 
urally as a spring wells up and overflows in little waves 
that never cease. The fate which kept the two lovers apart 
was a source of melancholy, which gave to their happiness 
something of the poignancy of grief. Felicie came back 
again, all too soon for them. Emmanuel, taught by the 
charming tact of love, which instinctively divines everything, 
left the two sisters together, with a glance in which Marguerite 
could read how much this consideration cost him a glance 
that told her how long and ardently he had desired this hap- 
piness which had just been consecrated by the betrothal of 
their hearts. 

"Come here, little sister," said Marguerite, putting her 
arm round Felicie's neck. They went together out into the 
garden, and sat down on the bench to which one generation 
after another had confided their love and grief, their plans 
and musings. In spite of her sister's gay tones and shrewd, 
kindly smile, Felicie felt something very like a tremor of fear. 
Marguerite took her hand, and felt that she was trembling. 

"Mademoiselle Felicie," her older sister said in her ear, 
" I am reading your heart. Pierquin has been here very often 
while I was away ; he came every evening, he has whispered 
sweet words, and you have listened to him." 

Felicie blushed. 



192 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

" Do not defend yourself, my angel," Marguerite answered ; 
" it is so natural to love ! Perhaps our cousin's character 
may alter under the influence of your dear soul ; he is selfish, 
and thinks only of his own interests, but he is kind-hearted, 
and his very faults will no doubt conduce to your happiness, 
for he will love you as the fairest of his possessions, you will 
be a part of his business affairs. Forgive me for that word, 
darling ! You will cure him of the bad habit of thinking of 
nothing but material interests by teaching him to occupy him- 
self with the affairs of the heart. ' ' 

Felicie could only put her arms round her sister. 

"Besides," Marguerite went on, "he is well-to-do. He 
belongs to one of the most distinguished and oldest bourgeois 
families. And you cannot think that I would put obstacles in 
the way of your happiness, if you choose to find it in a sphere 
somewhat beneath you? " 

" Dear sister ! " broke from Felicie. 

" Oh, yes ; you may trust me ! " cried Marguerite. " What 
more natural than that we should tell each other our secrets ? ' ' 

These words, so heartily spoken, opened the way for one 
of those delightful talks in which young girls confide every- 
thing to each other. Love had made Marguerite quick to 
read her sister's heart, and she said at last to Felicie 

" Well, dear little one, we must make sure that the cousin 
really loves you, and then " 

"Leave it to me," said Felicie, laughing; "I have an 
example here before me." 

"Little goose ! " said Marguerite, kissing her forehead. 

Pierquin belonged to the class of men who regard marriage 
as a business contract, a fulfillment of social duties, and a way 
of transmitting property ; it was to him a matter of indiffer- 
ence whether he married Marguerite or Felicie, so long as 
both bore the same family name and possessed the same 
amount of dower; yet he was acute enough to see that both 
of them, to use his own expression, were " romantic and sen- 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 193 

timental girls," two adjectives employed by commonplace 
people to ridicule the gifts which nature sows with a grudging 
hand in the furrows of the human field. Doubtless the lawyer 
concluded that he had best do at Rome as the Romans do ; 
for the next day he came to see Marguerite, and with a mys- 
terious air took her out into the little garden and began to 
talk "sentiment," since this was a necessary preliminary, 
according to social usages, to the usual formal contract drawn 
up by a lawyer. 

" Dear cousin," said he, "we have not always been of one 
mind as to the best means of bringing you out of your diffi- 
culties, but you must acknowledge that I have always been 
prompted by a strong desire to serve you. Well, then, yester- 
day my offer of help was completely spoiled by an unlucky 
trick of speaking, due simply to a lawyer's habit of mind. 
Do you understand ? My heart is not to blame for the absurd 
piece of folly. I have cared very much about you, and we 
lawyers have a certain quick-sightedness ; I saw that you did 
not like what I said. It is my own fault ! Some one else has 
been cleverer than I was. Well, I have come to tell you out 
and out that I love your sister Felicie. So you can treat me 
as a brother, dip in my purse, take what you will ; the more 
you take, the better you will prove your regard for me. I am 
wholly at your service, without interest do you understand ? 
of any sort or description. If only I may be thought 
worthy of Felicie, that is all I ask. Forgive me for my 
mistakes, they are due to business habits ; my heart is right 
enough, and I would throw myself into the Scarpe rather than 
not make my wife happy." He spoke with every indication 
of sympathy and sincerity. 

" This is very satisfactory, cousin ; but the matter does not 
rest with me, it rests with my sister and father," said Mar- 
guerite. 

"I know that, dear cousin," the notary answered, "but 
you are like a mother to them all ; besides, I have nothing 
13 



194 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

more nearly at heart than that you should judge of mine cor- 
rectly." 

This way of speaking was characteristic of the honest 
notary. Later in life, Pierquin's reply to an invitation from 
the commanding officer at Saint Omei became famous ; the 
latter had asked him to some military festivity, and Pierquin's 
response was worded thus: "Monsieur Pierquin-Claes de 
Molina-Nourho, Mayor of the city of Douai, Chevalier of the 
Legion of Honor, will have that of being present," etc. 

Marguerite accepted his offer only in so far as it related to 
his professional advice, fearing to compromise her dignity as 
a woman, her sister's future, or her father's authority. The 
same day she confided her sister to the care of Josette and 
Martha, who were devoted body and soul to their young mis- 
tress, and entered into all her plans of retrenchment ; and 
Marguerite set out immediately for Waignies, where she be- 
gan to put her schemes into execution at once, benefited by 
Pierquin's experience. 

The notary reckoned up the time and trouble expended, 
and regarded it as an excellent investment ; he was putting 
them out to interest, as it were, and, with such a prospect be- 
fore him, he had no mind to grudge the outlay. 

In the first place, he endeavored to spare Marguerite the 
trouble of clearing the land and getting it ready for cultiva- 
tion. He found three sons of wealthy farmers, young men 
who were anxious to settle themselves ; to them he pointed 
out the attractive possibilities offered by such a fertile soil, 
and succeeded in letting the land to them just as it was, on a 
long lease. For the first three years they were to pay no rent 
at all, in the fourth they undertook to pay six thousand 
francs, twelve thousand in the sixth, and after that, fifteen 
thousand francs yearly till the expiration of the lease. They 
also undertook to drain the land, to make plantations, and 
purchase cattle. While the steadings were in course of erec- 
tion they began to clear the ground. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 195 

Four years after Balthazar's departure, Marguerite had 
almost retrieved the fortunes of her brother and sister. Two 
hundred thousand francs, loaned by Emmanuel de Solis, had 
covered the expenses of the farm buildings. Advice and 
more substantial help had been readily given to the brave girl, 
for every one admired Marguerite's courage. She personally 
superintended the building operations, and looked after her 
contracts and leases with the good sense, energy, and per- 
severance which a woman can display when she is sustained 
by strong feeling. 

After the fifth year Marguerite could devote thirty thou- 
sand francs of her income to paying off the mortgages on her 
father's property, and to repairing the havoc wrought by- 
Balthazar's passion in the old house. Besides the rent fronv 
their own farms, they had the interest on the capital invested 
in her brother's name, and the proceeds of her father's prop- 
erty. The process of extinction of the debt was bound to be 
more and more rapid as the amount of interest decreased. 
Emmanuel de Solis, moreover, had persuaded Marguerite to 
take the remaining tiundred thousand francs of his uncle's 
bequest, as well as some twenty thousand francs which he him- 
self had saved, so that in the third year of her administration 
she could pay off a fairly large amount of debt. This life of 
courage, self-denial, and self-sacrifice lasted for five years, but 
it ended at last, thanks to Marguerite's influence and super- 
vision, in complete success. 

Gabriel had become a civil engineer, and with his great- 
uncle's help had made a rapid fortune by the construction of 
a canal. He found favor in the eyes of his cousin, Mile. 
Conyncks, whom her father idolized, one of the richest 
heiresses in all Flanders. In 1824 Claes' property was free, 
and the house in the Rue de Paris had repaired its losses. 
Pierquin made formal application to Balthazar for Felicie's 
hand, and M. de Solis asked for Marguerite. 

At the beginning of the month of January, 1825, Mar- 



196 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

guerite and M. Conyncks set out for Brittany to bring back 
the exiled father, whom every one longed to see in his home 
again. He had resigned his post that he might spend the rest 
of his days among his children, and his presence should sanction 
their happiness. Marguerite had often bewailed the empty 
spaces on the walls of the picture-gallery and the state apart- 
ments, which must meet their father's eyes on his return, so 
that while she was away Pierquin and M. de Solis plotted 
with Felicie to prepare a surprise for her ; the younger sister 
should also have a share in the restoration of the Maison 
Claes. Both gentlemen had bought several fine pictures, 
which they presented to Felicie, so that the gallery might be 
adorned as of old. The same thought had occurred to M. 
Conyncks, who wished to show his appreciation of Marguerite's 
noble conduct, and of the way in which she had devoted her- 
self to fulfilling her dying mother's request. He arranged 
that fifty of his finest pictures, together with some of those 
that Balthazar had previously sold, should be sent to fill the 
picture gallery, where there were now no more blank spaces. 

Marguerite had visited her father several times, Jean or her 
sister accompanying her on each journey ; but, since her last 
visit, old age seemed to have gained on Balthazar. He lived 
extremely penuriously, for nearly all his income was spent on 
the experiment which brought nothing but disappointment, 
and probably the alarming symptoms were due to his manner 
of life. He was only sixty-five years of age, but he looked 
like a man of eighty. His eyes were deeply sunk in his face, 
his eyebrows were white, his hair hung in a scanty fringe 
round his head, he allowed his beard to grow, cutting it with 
a pair of scissors when its length annoyed him, he stooped 
like an old vine-dresser, his neglected dress suggested a degree 
of wretchedness that was frightful when combined with his 
look of decrepitude. Sometimes his face looked noble still 
when a great thought lighted it up, but the outlines of his 
features were obliterated by wrinkles ; his fixed gaze, the des- 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 197 

perate look in his eyes, and his restless uneasiness seemed to 
be symptoms of insanity, or rather of many forms of insanity. 
A sudden gleam of hope would give him the look of a mono- 
maniac ; an excess of impatience, that he could not guess this 
secret which flitted before him and eluded his grasp like a will- 
o'-the-wisp, would blaze out into impotent anger like madness, 
to be followed by a burst of laughter at his own folly ; but, 
as a rule, he lived in a state of the deepest dejection, and 
every phase of frenzy was merged in the dull melancholy of 
the idiot. However fleeting and imperceptible these changes 
of expression might be for strangers, they were unhappily only 
too obvious for those who had known the once noble face, the 
Claes of former years, so sublime in goodness and so great- 
hearted, of whom scarcely a trace could now be recognized. 

Le Mulquinier, like his master, was old and worn by in- 
cessant toil, but he had not borne the same burden, nor 
endured the constant strain of thought ; a curious mixture of 
anxiety and admiration in the way in which he looked at his 
master might easily have misled a casual observer; he listened 
respectfully to Claes' slightest word, and watched his move- 
ments with a kind of tenderness ; he looked after his great 
and learned master with a care like a mother's ; he even 
seemed to protect him, and, in some ways, actually did pro- 
tect him, for Balthazar never took any thought for the needs 
of physical existence. It was touching and painful to see the 
two old men, both wrapped in the same thought, both so sure 
of the reality of their hope, inspired by the same restless 
longing; it was as if they had but one life between them 
the one was the soul, and the other the body. When Mar- 
guerite and M. Conyncks arrived they found M. Claes living 
in an inn ; his successor had taken his place at once. 

Through all the preoccupation of science, Balthazar had 
felt stirrings of the desire to see his country, his home, and 
children once more ; his daughter's letter had brought good 
news ; he had begun to dream of a crowning series of experi- 



198 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

ments, which should surely yield at last the secret of the 
Absolute, and he awaited Marguerite's coming with great 
impatience. 

The young girl shed tears of joy as she flung herself into 
his arms. This time she had come to receive her reward, the 
reward of a painful and difficult task, and to ask pardon for 
her brilliant success in it. But as she looked more closely at 
her father, she was shocked at the changes wrought in him 
since the previous visit ; she felt as if she had committed a 
crime, like some great man who violates the liberties of his 
country to save its national existence. M. Conyncks shared 
his niece's misgivings ; he insisted that his cousin must be 
moved at once, that the air of his native Douai might restore 
him to health, as the life by his own hearth should restore his 
reason. 

After the first outpourings of affection, which were much 
warmer on Balthazar's part than Marguerite had expected, he 
was strangely attentive to her wishes ; he expressed his regret 
at receiving her in such a poor place ; he consulted her tastes 
in the ordering of their meals, and was as sedulously watchful 
as a lover. But in his manner also there was something of 
the uneasiness and anxiety of the culprit who wishes to secure 
a favorable hearing from a judge. Marguerite knew her father 
so well that she guessed the motives underlying this affectionate 
solicitude ; she thought that he must have incurred debts in 
the town, which he was anxious to pay before he went. She 
watched her father narrowly for a while, and a human heart 
was laid bare to her gaze. Balthazar seemed to have grown 
little. The consciousness of his humiliation, the enforced 
isolation resulting from his scientific pursuits, had made him 
shy and almost like a child, save when the subject under dis- 
cussion was connected with his beloved science. He stood in 
awe of his oldest daughter ; he remembered her devotion in 
the past, the power of mind and character that she had shown, 
the authority with which he himself had invested her, the 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 199 

fortune which she had administered so ably ; and the inde- 
finable feeling of dread which had taken possession of him on 
the day when he resigned the authority which he had abused 
had no doubt grown stronger with time. 

Conyncks seemed to be as nothing in Balthazar's eyes ; he 
saw no one but his daughter, and thought of no one else ; he 
even seemed to dread her, as a weak-minded man is overawed 
by the wife whose will is stronger than his own. Marguerite's 
heart smote her when she detected a look of terror in his 
eyes, an expression like that of some little child who has been 
doing wrong. The noble girl could not understand the con- 
tradiction between the magnificent stern outlines of the head, 
the features worn by scientific labors and strenuous thought, 
and the weak smile on Balthazar's lips, the expression of art- 
less servility in his face. This sharp contrast between greatness 
and littleness was very painful to her ; she resolved to use her 
influence to restore her father's self-respect before the great 
day which was to restore him to his family. When they were 
left together for a moment, she began at once, seizing the 
opportunity to say in his ear 

" Have you any debts here, father ? " 

Balthazar reddened uneasily, and answered, " I do not 
know, but Le Mulquinier will tell you ; he is a good fellow, 
and knows more about my affairs than I do myself." 

Marguerite rang for the servant, and when he came she 
could not help studying the faces of the two old men. 

" Is something wanted, monsieur?" asked Le Mulquinier. 

Personal pride and family pride were two of Marguerite's 
strongest instincts; something in the servant's tone and man- 
ner told of an unseemly familiarity between her father and the 
companion of his labors which gave her a pang. 

" It seems that my father is unable to reckon up what he 
owes here without your memory to aid him, Le Mulquinier," 
said Marguerite. 

" Monsieur owes," Le Mulquinier began, but checked him- 



200 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

self at a sign from Balthazar, which did not escape Marguerite. 
She felt surprised and humiliated. 

"Tell me exactly how much my father owes," she ex- 
claimed. 

' ' Monsieur owes five thousand francs here in the town to a 
druggist and wholesale grocer who has supplied us with caustic 
potash, lead and zinc, and reagents." 

"Is that all?" asked Marguerite. 

Balthazar made an affirmative sign to Le Mulquinier, who 
answered like a man under a spell, " Yes, mademoiselle." 

"Very well," she said, "I will give you the money." 

Balthazar kissed his daughter in his joy. "You are my 
guardian angel, my child," he said. 

He breathed more freely after that. There was less sadness 
in his eyes as he looked at her ; but, in spite of his joy, Mar- 
guerite could see that in the depths of his heart he was still 
troubled, and she guessed that the five thousand francs merely 
represented the most pressing of the debts contracted for the 
expenses of the laboratory. 

" Be frank with me, father," she said, as she let him draw 
her towards him, and sat on his knees, "do you owe more 
than this? Tell me everything; come back to your home 
without any lurking fear in your mind in the midst of the 
rejoicing." 

" My dear Marguerite," he answered, taking her hands and 
kissing them with a grace that seemed like a memory of his 
youth, " shall you scold me ? " 

"No," she said. 

"Really?" he asked, with an involuntary start of childish 
joy. "Can I really tell you everything? and will you pay 



" Yes," she said, trying to keep back the tears that came 
to her eyes. 

"Very well, then, I owe. Oh ! I dare not ! " 
"Father, do tell me!" 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 201 

"But it is a great deal," he went on. 
She clasped her hands in despair. 

" I owe thirty thousand francs to MM. Protez and Chiffre- 
ville." 

"Thirty thousand francs all my savings," she said; "but 
I am glad that I can give them to you," she added, with a 
reverent kiss on his forehead. 

He sprang to his feet, caught his daughter in his arms, and 
spun round the room with her, lifting her off her feet as 
though she had been a child ; then he set her down in the 
armchair where she had been sitting, exclaiming, "My dear 
child, my treasure of love ! There was no life left in me. 
Protez and Chiffreville have written three times ; they threaten 
proceedings proceedings against me, when I have made their 

fortunes " 

" Then you are still trying to find the solution of your 
problem, father ? ' ' said Marguerite sadly. 

"Yes, still," he said, with a frenzied smile, "and I shall 

find it, never fear ! If you only knew where we are ! " 

" We, who?" 

"I mean Mulquinier; he understands me at last; he is a 

great help to me Poor fellow, he is so faithful ! " 

Conyncks came in at that moment and put an end to their 
conversation. Marguerite made a sign to her father to say no 
more ; she dreaded lest he should lower himself in their 
uncle's eyes. 

It shocked her to see the havoc wrought in that great intel- 
lect by incessant preoccupation with a problem perhaps after 
all insoluble. Balthazar, doubtless, could see nothing beyond 
his crucibles and furnaces ; it never even crossed his mind 
that his affairs were no longer embarrassed. 

They set out for Flanders next day; the journey was a 
sufficiently long one, and Marguerite had time to see many 
things on the way that threw gleams of light on the relative 
positions of Le Mulquinier and his master. Had the servant 



202 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

gained the ascendancy, which uneducated minds can acquire 
over the greatest thinkers if they feel that they are indispen- 
sable to their betters ? Such natures use concession after con- 
cession as stepping-stones to complete dominion, and attain 
their end at last by dint of dogged persistence. Or, on the 
other hand, was it the master who had come to feel for the 
servant the sort of affection that springs from use and wont, 
not unlike the fondness which a craftsman feels for his tool 
which executes his will, or the Arab for the horse to which he 
owes his freedom ? Little things that passed under Margue- 
rite's watchful eyes decided her to put this affection to the 
test, by proposing to free Balthazar from what perhaps was a 
galling yoke. 

They spent a few days in Paris on their way back. Mar- 
guerite paid her father's debts, and besought the firm of 
chemists to send nothing to Douai without first giving her 
notice of Claes' orders. She persuaded her father to make 
some changes in his costume, and to dress as became a man 
of his rank. This external transformation gave Balthazar a 
sort of physical dignity, which augured well for a change in 
his ideas. Marguerite already felt something of the happiness 
which she looked for when her father should find the sur- 
prises that awaited him in his own house ; and their depart- 
ure for Douai was not long delayed. 

Felicie, accompanied by her two brothers, Emmanuel, Pier- 
quin, and the most intimate friends of the three families, rode 
out three leagues from the town to meet Balthazar. The long 
journey had given other directions to the chemist's thoughts, 
the sight of the Flemish landscape had stirred his heart, so 
that at the sight of the joyous cortege of children and friends 
he felt so deeply touched that tears filled his eyes, his voice 
shook, and his eyelids reddened ; he took his children in his 
arms, and seemed as if he could not let them go, showing 
such passionate affection for them that the onlookers were 
moved to tears. 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 203 

He turned pale when he saw his house once more, and 
sprang out of the carriage with the quickness of a young 
man ; it seemed to be a pleasure to him to breathe the air in the 
courtyard once more, to see every trifling detail again ; his 
happiness was plainly visible in every gesture that he made ; 
he held himself erect, his face grew young again. 

Tears came to his eyes as he stood in the doorway of the 
parlor, and saw how accurately his daughter had reproduced 
the old-fashioned silver sconces which he had sold, and how 
completely every trace of their misfortunes had disappeared. 
A magnificent breakfast awaited them in the dining-room ; 
the shelves above the sideboards had been filled with curiosi- 
ties and silver-plate at least as valuable as the heirlooms which 
formerly had stood there. Long as the family breakfast 
lasted, Balthazar scarcely heard all that he wished to hear 
from each of his children. His return had brought about a 
sort of reaction in him ; he thought of nothing but family 
happiness ; he was a father before all things. There was the 
old courtliness in his manner. In the joy of that first moment 
of possession he did not ask by what means all that he had 
squandered had been recovered, and his happiness was com- 
plete and entire. 

Breakfast over, the father and his four children, and Pier- 
quin the notary, went into the parlor, and Balthazar saw, not 
without uneasiness, the stamped papers which a clerk had 
arranged on the table by which he stood, as if awaiting 
further instructions from his employer. Balthazar stood in 
amazement before the hearth as his family seated themselves. 

" This," said Pierquin, " is an account of his guardianship 
rendered by M. Claes to his children. It is not very amusing, 
of course," he added, laughing, after the manner of notaries, 
who are wont to adopt a jesting tone over the gravest matters 
of business, "but it is absolutely necessary that you should 
hear it read." 

Although the circumstances of the case might justify the 



204 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

use of this phrase, M. Claes, with an uneasy conscience, must 
needs think it a reproach, and he frowned. The clerk began 
to read ; the farther he read, the greater grew Balthazar's 
astonishment. In the first place, it was ascertained that at 
the time of his wife's death her fortune had amounted to 
about sixteen hundred thousand francs, and at the conclusion 
of the statement of accounts each child's share was paid in 
full, everything was clear and straightforward, as if the most 
prudent father of a family had administered the estate. It 
was shown incidentally that Gabriel's mortgage on the house 
had been paid off, that Balthazar's dwelling was his own, and 
that his estates were free from all liabilities. He had recov- 
ered his honor as a man, his position as a citizen, his existence 
as a father all at once ; he sank into an armchair and looked 
round for Marguerite, but, with a woman's exquisite delicacy 
of feeling, she had stolen away during the reading, to make 
sure that all her arrangements for the fte had been fully 
carried out. Every one of Claes' children understood what 
was passing in his mind when through a film of tears his eyes 
sought for his daughter ; she seemed to their inner vision like 
a strong, bright angel. Gabriel went to find Marguerite, 
Balthazar heard her footstep, hurried towards her, met her at 
the foot of the staircase, and clasped her in his arms. 

" Father," she said, as the old man held her tightly, " do 
nothing, I implore you, to lessen your sacred authority. You 
must thank me, before them all, for carrying out your wishes 
so well ; you, and you alone, must be the author of the 
changes for the better which may have been effected here." 

Balthazar raised his eyes to heaven, looked at his daughter 
and folded his arms ; his face wore a look which none of his 
children had seen for ten years, as he said, " Why are you not 
here, Pepita, to admire our child ? " 

He could say no more. He held his daughter in a tight 
embrace for a moment, and went back to the parlor. 

" Children," he said, with the noble bearing which had so 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 205 

pre-eminently distinguished him in former years, " we all owe 
a debt of thanks and gratitude to my daughter Marguerite for 
the courage and prudence with which she has carried out my 
plans, while I, too much absorbed by scientific research, left 
the administration of our affairs and the reins of authority in 
her hands." 

"Ah! now we will read the marriage contracts," said 
Pierquin, glancing at the clock. "But I have nothing to do 
with that, inasmuch as the law forbids me to draw up docu- 
ments for myself and my relations ; so M. Raparlier's uncle 
is coming." 

The friends who had been invited to the dinner given to 
celebrate M. Claes' return and the signing of the contracts 
now began to arrive, and the servants brought the wedding 
presents. The assemblage, which rapidly grew, was brilliant 
by reason of the rank of the visitors and the splendor of their 
toilet. The three families thus brought together to witness 
their children's happiness had striven to outshine each other. 
The parlor was filled almost at once with splendid gifts for 
the betrothed couples. Gold flowed in on them and sparkled 
there, stuffs lay unfolded, cashmere shawls lay among neck- 
laces and jewels. Givers and receivers alike felt heartfelt joy ; 
an almost childish delight shone visibly in all faces, so that 
the magnificence and costliness of the gifts were forgotten by 
those less nearly concerned, who, as a rule, are sufficiently 
ready to amuse themselves by counting up the cost. 

The ceremony soon began. After the manner traditional 
in the family of Claes, the parents alone were seated ; every 
one else who was present remained standing about them at a 
little distance. On the side of the parlor nearest the garden 
stood Gabriel Claes and Mile. Conyncks, next to them M. 
de Solis and Marguerite, her sister Felicie and Pierquin. 
Balthazar and M. Conyncks (the only two who were seated) 
took up their position on either side of the notary who had 
succeeded Pierquin. Jean stood behind his father's armchair; 



206 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

and on the opposite side of the room, nearest the courtyard, 
stood an imposing circle, composed of a score of well-dressed 
women and several men, near relations of Pierquin, Conyncks, 
or of the Claes, the mayor of Douai, before whom the mar- 
riages were to take place, and a dozen of the most devoted 
friends of the three families, including the first president of 
the Court-Royal of Douai and the cure of St. Pierre. The 
homage paid by such an assemblage to the fathers, who seemed 
for a moment to be invested with regal dignity, gave an almost 
patriarchal color to the scene. For the first time, during six- 
teen years, Balthazar forgot the Quest of the Absolute for a 
moment. 

All the persons who had been invited to the signing of the 
contract and to the dinner were now present. M. Rapar- 
lier, having ascertained this from Marguerite and her sister, 
had returned to his place and taken up the contract of mar- 
riage between Marguerite and Emmanuel de Solis, which was 
to be read first, when the door suddenly flew open, and Le 
Mulquinier's face appeared beaming with joy and excite- 
ment. 

"Monsieur! monsieur!" he called. 

Balthazar gave Marguerite a despairing glance, beckoned 
to her, and they went out into the garden together. A pre- 
sentiment of impending trouble fell on those assembled. 

" I did not dare to tell you, dear child," the father said to 
his daughter, "but you have done so much for me that you 
will surely help me out of this new trouble. Le Mulquinier 
loaned me his savings for my last experiment, which was 
unsuccessful ; he loaned me twenty thousand francs, and 
doubtless the wretched fellow has found out that I am rich 
again, and wants to have his money; let him have it at 
once. Oh ! my angel, you owe your father's life to him, for 
he was my sole support and comfort through all my failures ; 
he alone still had faith in me. Without him I must have 
died " 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 207 

" Monsieur, monsieur ! " cried Le Mulquinier. 

"Well?" said Balthazar, turning towards him. 

" A diamond ! " 

At the sight of the diamond in the old servant's hand, 
Claes rushed to the parlor. Le Mulquinier began in a 
whisper 

" I went up to the laboratory " 

The chemist, completely forgetful of his surroundings, gave 
the old Fleming a look which can only be rendered by the 
words 

" You were the first to go up to the laboratory ! " 

"And I found this diamond there," the servant went on, 
" in the capsule which communicated with that battery which 
we left to its own devices and it has done the trick, sir! " 
he added, holding up a white diamond of octahedral form, 'so 
brilliant that the eyes of all those assembled were attracted 
by it. 

"My children and friends," said Balthazar, "forgive my 
old servant, forgive me. This will drive me mad ! At some 
time during the past seven years chance has brought about in 
my laboratory this result that I have sought in vain to compass 
for sixteen years and I was not there ! How has it come 
about? I have no idea. Oh, yes; I know that I submitted 
a combination of sulphur and carbon to the influence of a vol- 
taic battery, but the process should have been watched from 
day to day. And now, during my absence, the power of God 
has been manifested in my laboratory, and I have been unable 
to watch its workings, for this has been brought about grad- 
ually, of course ! It is overwhelming, is it not ? Accursed 
exile ! accursed fatality ! Ah ! if only I had watched this long, 
this slow, this sudden I know not what to call it crystal- 
lization, transformation, miracle, in fact, my children would 
be well, richer still. Perhaps the problem would still remain 
to be solved, but at least the first rays of the dawn of my glory 
would have shone upon my country ; and this moment, when 



208 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

the longings of affection are satisfied, though it glows with 
our happiness, would have been gladdened yet more by the 
sunlight of science." 

Every one kept silence; the disconnected phrases wrung 
from him by agony were too sincere not to be sublime. All 
at once Balthazar recovered himself, forced back his despair 
into some inner depths, and gave the assembly a majestic 
glance. Other souls caught something of his enthusiasm. 
He took the sparkling diamond and held it out to Marguerite, 
saying 

" It belongs to you, my angel." 

He dismissed Le Mulquinier by a sign, and spoke to the 
notary 

"Let us go on," he said. 

The words produced a sensation among those who heard 
them, a responsive thrill such as Talma, in some of his parts, 
could awaken in a vast listening audience that hung on his 
words. Balthazar sat down, saying to himself, "To-day I 
must be a father only." He spoke in a low voice ; but Mar- 
guerite, who overheard him, went over to her father and 
reverently kissed his hand. 

" Never was there a man so great ! " said Emmanuel, when 
his betrothed returned to his side ; " never was there so strong 
a will ; any other would have gone mad." 

As soon as the three contracts had been read and signed, 
every one crowded about Balthazar to ask how the diamond 
had been made, but he could throw no light on the mysteri- 
ous event. He looked out at the attic, and pointed to it in a 
kind of frenzy. 

" Yes, the awful power which results from the vibrations of 
glowing matter, which doubtless produces metals and dia- 
monds, manifested itself there," he said, "for one moment 
by chance." 

"A chance that came about quite naturally," said one of 
those people who like to account for everything; "the old 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUl^E. 209 

gentleman left a real diamond lying about. It is so much 
saved out of all that he has burned up." 

"Let us forget this," said Balthazar to the friends who 
stood about him; "I beg you will not speak of it again to 
me to-day." 

Marguerite took her father's arm to lead him to the state 
apartments, where a banquet had been prepared. As he fol- 
lowed his guests along the gallery, he saw that it was filled 
with rare flowers, and that the walls were covered with pic- 
tures. 

"Pictures!" he cried, "pictures! and some of the old 
ones!" 

He stopped ; for a moment he looked gloomy and sad ; he 
knew by the extent of his own humiliation how great had 
been the wrong that he had done his children. 

"All this is yours, father," said Marguerite, guessing Bal- 
thazar's trouble. 

"Angel, over whom the angels in heaven must surely 
rejoice," he cried, "how many times you have given life to 
your father." 

"Let there be no cloud on your brow, and not the least 
sad thought left in your heart," she answered, "and you will 
have rewarded me beyond my hopes. I have just been thinking 
about Le Mulquinier, dearest father; little things you have 
said of him now and then have made me esteem him, and I 
confess I have been unjust to him ; he ought to live here as a 
humble friend of yours. Never mind about your debt to him ; 
Emmanuel has saved nearly sixty thousand francs, and Le 
Mulquinier shall have the money. After he has served you 
so faithfully, he ought to spend the rest of his days in comfort. 
And do not be troubled on our account. M. de Solis and I 
mean to live simply and quietly without luxury; we can 
spare the money until you are able to return it." 

" Oh, my child ! you must never leave me ! you must always 
be your father's providence ! " 
14 



210 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

When she reached the state apartments, Balthazar saw that 
they had been restored and furnished as splendidly as before. 
The guests presently went down to the dining-room on the 
ground floor, flowering shrubs stood on every step of the great 
staircase. A service of silver-plate of marvelous workmanship, 
Gabriel's gift to his father, attracted all eyes by its splendor ; 
it was a surprise even to the proudest burghers of Douai, who 
are accustomed to a lavish display of silver. The guests were 
waited upon by the servants of the three households of Claes, 
Conyncks, and Pierquin ; Le Mulquinier stood behind his 
master's chair. Balthazar, in the midst of his kinsfolk at the 
head of the table, read heartfelt joy in the happy faces that 
encircled it, and felt so deeply moved that every one was 
silent, as men are silent in the presence of a great joy or 
sorrow. 

" Dear children ! " he said, " you have killed the fatted calf 
for the return of the prodigal father." 

The phrase in which the chemist summed up his position, 
and which perhaps anticipated harsher criticism, was spoken 
so generously that every one present was moved to tears ; but 
with the tears the last trace of sadness vanished, and happi- 
ness found its expression in the blithe merriment characteristic 
of family festivals. After the dinner the principal families 
of Douai began to arrive for the ball, and in its restoration 
the Maison Claes more than equaled its traditional splendor. 

The three weddings shortly followed ; the ensuing rejoicings, 
balls, and banquets drew Claes into the vortex of social 
life for several months. His oldest son went to live near 
Cambrai on an estate belonging to his father-in-law, for M. 
Conyncks could not bear to be separated from his daughter. 
Mme. Pierquin likewise left her father's roof to preside over 
a mansion which Pierquin had built, where he meant to live 
in all the dignity befitting his rank, for he had sold his prac- 
tice, and his uncle des Racquets had recently died and left 
him all the wealth which he had slowly amassed. Jean went 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 211 

to Paris to finish his education ; so of all his children, only M. 
and Mme. de Solis remained with Balthazar in the old house. 
He had given up the family home in the rear to them, and 
lived himself on the second story of the front building. So 
Marguerite still watched over Balthazar's comfort, and Em- 
manuel helped her in the congenial task. 

The noble girl received from the hands of love the crown 
most eagerly desired of all the wreath that is woven by hap- 
piness and kept fresh by constancy. Indeed, no more perfect 
picture of the pure, complete, and acknowledged happiness, 
of which all women fondly dream, could be found. The 
unity of heart between two beings who had faced the trials of 
life so bravely, and who felt for each other such a sacred affec- 
tion, called forth the admiration and respect of those who 
knew them. 

M. de Solis, who for some time had held an appointment 
as inspector-general of the university, resigned his post to 
enjoy his happiness at his leisure, and remained in Douai, 
where his character and talents were held in such high esteem 
that his election as a deputy when the time came was already 
spoken of as certain. 

Marguerite, who had been so strong in adversity, became a 
sweet and tender woman in prosperity. Through the rest of 
that year Claes was certainly deeply absorbed in his studies; 
but though he made a few experiments, involving but little 
expense, his ordinary income was sufficient for his require- 
ments, and he seemed to neglect his laboratory work. Mar- 
guerite had adopted the old tradition of the house, gave a 
family dinner every month, to which her father, the Pierquins, 
and the Conyncks came, and received her own circle of ac- 
quaintances one day in the week. Her cafes had a great 
vogue. Claes was usually present on these occasions, though 
he sometimes seemed to be scarcely conscious of his surround- 
ings, but he went into society again so cheerfully to please his 
daughter that his children might well imagine that he had 



212 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

given up the attempt to solre his problem. In this way three 
years went by. 

In 1828 a piece of good fortune which befell Emmanuel 
took him to Spain. Although three numerous families, 
branches of the house of Solis, stood between him and the 
family estates, yellow fever, old age, and various freaks of 
fortune combined to leave them all childless, and the titles 
and entail passed to Emmanuel, who was the last of his family. 
By one of those chances which seem less improbable in real 
life than in books, the lands and titles of the Counts of Nourho 
had been acquired by the house of Solis. Marguerite would 
not be separated from her husband, who would be forced to 
stay long enough in Spain to settle his affairs ; moreover, she 
looked forward to seeing the chateau of Casa-Real, where her 
mother had passed her childhood, and the city of Granada, 
the cradle of the de Solis family. So she went with her 
husband, leaving the household to Martha, Josette, and Le 
Mulquinier, who were accustomed to its management. Mar- 
guerite had proposed to Balthazar that he should go with 
them, and he had declined on the score of his great age ; but 
the fact was that he had long meditated certain experiments, 
which should realize his hopes at last, and this was the true 
reason of his refusal. 

The Comte and Comtesse de Solis y Nourho stayed longer 
in Spain than they had intended, and a child was born to 
them there. It was not until the middle of the year 1830 
that they reached Cadiz, intending to return to France by 
way of Italy ; but at Cadiz a letter came from Felicie bringing 
evil tidings. In eighteen months their father had completely 
ruined himself. Gabriel and Pierquin were obliged to allow 
him a fixed sum every month to pay for necessary expenses, 
and the money was paid to Le Mulquinier. The old servant 
had sacrificed his savings a second time to his master. Bal- 
thazar saw no one, not even his own children were admitted 
into the house. Josette and Martha were both dead ; the 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 213 

coachman, the cook, and the rest of the servants had been 
dismissed one after another, and the horses and carriages had 
been sold. Although Le Mulquinier was discreet and taci- 
turn, there was too good ground for believing that the money 
which Gabriel Claes and Pierquin allowed him for necessaries 
was spent on his experiments. Indeed, Gabriel and Pierquin 
were paying the interest of a mortgage on the Maison Claes, 
effected without their knowledge, lest the house should be sold 
above his head. None of his children had any influence with 
the old man of seventy, who still possessed such extraordinary 
energy and determination even in trifles. It was just possible 
that Marguerite might regain her old ascendancy over him, and 
Felicie begged her sister to come home at once ; she was in 
terror lest her father should have put his name to bills once 
more. Gabriel, Conyncks, and Pierquin had taken alarm at 
this persistent madness which had spent seven millions of 
francs without result, and had decided not to pay M. Claes' 
debts. This letter changed Marguerite's traveling plans ; she 
took the shortest way home to Douai. With her past savings 
and newly acquired wealth it would be easy to pay her father's 
debts once more ; but she determined to do more than this, she 
would fulfill her mother's wishes ; Balthazar Claes should not 
sink into a dishonored grave. Clearly she alone had sufficient 
influence with him to prevent him from carrying out his 
ruinous career to its natural end, at a time of life when great 
results could scarcely be expected from his enfeebled powers ; 
but she wished to persuade him, and not to wound his suscep- 
tibilities, fearing to imitate the children of Sophocles; pos- 
sibly her father, after all, was nearing the solution of the 
scientific problem to which he had sacrificed so much. 

M. and Mme. de Solis reached Flanders in 1831, and 
arrived in Douai one morning towards the end of September. 
Marguerite ordered the coachman to drive to her house 
in the Rue de Paris, and found it shut up ; a violent 
ring at the door bell produced no answer. A shopkeeper,. 



214 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

who lived opposite, left his doorstep, whither he had been 
brought by the noise of the carriages ; many of the neighbors 
were at their windows, partly because they were glad to see 
the return of a family so much beloved in the town, partly 
stirred by a vague feeling of curiosity as to what might 
happen when Marguerite came back to the Maison Claes. 
The shopkeeper told the Comte de Solis' man that old 
M. Claes had left the house about an hour before. Le Mul- 
quinier had doubtless taken him to walk upon the ramparts. 

Marguerite sent for a locksmith to force open the door, so 
as to avoid a scene with her father, if (as Felicie's letter had 
led her to expect) he should refuse to allow her to enter the 
house. Emmanuel himself, meanwhile, went in search of the 
old man to bring him the news of his daughter's arrival, and 
dispatched his man with a message to M. and Mme. Pierquin. 

It did not take long to force open the door. Marguerite 
went to the parlor to give directions about their baggage. A 
shiver of horror went through her as she entered the walls 
were as bare as if a fire had swept over them. Van Huysium's 
wonderful carvings and the portrait of the great Claes had 
been sold to Lord Spencer, so some one said. The dining- 
room was empty ; there was nothing there but two straw- 
bottomed chairs, and a wretched table, on which Marguerite 
saw, with dreadful misgivings, a couple of bowls and plates, 
two silver spoons and forks, and, on a dish, the remains of a 
herring, the meal, doubtless, of which Claes and his servant 
had just partaken. As she hurried through the state apart- 
ments, she saw that every room was as bare and forlorn as the 
parlor and the dining-room ; the idea of the Absolute seemed 
to have passed through the whole house like a fire. 

For all furniture in her father's room, there was a bed, a 
chair, and a table; a tallow candle burned down to the 
socket stood in a battered copper candlestick. The house 
had been stripped so completely that there were no curtains 
in the windows ; everything that could bring in a few pence, 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 215 

even the kitchen utensils, had been sold. Drawn by the feel- 
ing of curiosity that survives in us even in the deepest misfor- 
tune, Marguerite looked into Le Mulquinier's room ; it was 
as bare and empty as his master's. The drawer in the table 
stood half-open, and Marguerite caught a glimpse of a pawn- 
ticket ; the servant had pledged his watch a few days pre- 
viously. She hastened to the attic ; the laboratory was as 
well replenished as it used to be ; finally, she had the door of 
her own room forced open ; everything was as she had left it, 
her father had respected her apartment. 

Marguerite glanced round her, burst into tears, and in her 
heart forgave her father. Even in the frenzy of enthusiasm, 
which spared nothing else, he had been checked by fatherly 
love and a feeling of gratitude towards her. This proof of 
tenderness, received in the depths of her despair, wrought in 
Marguerite one of those revulsions which prove too strong for 
the coldest hearts. She went down to the parlor, and waited 
for her father's coming, with an anxiety which was increased 
by horrible fears ; she was about to see him, would he be 
changed ? Should she see a decrepit, ailing wreck, emaciated 
by fastings endured through pride ? Suppose his reason had 
failed? Her tears flowed fast in the profaned sanctuary. 
Scenes of her past life rose up before her. She remembered 
her struggles, her vain attempts to save her father from him- 
self, her childish days, the mother who had been so happy 
and so unhappy ; everything about her, even the face of her 
little Joseph who smiled on the desolation, seemed to form 
part of some unreal, mournful tragedy. 

But for all her sad forebodings, she did not foresee the catas- 
trophe of the drama of her father's life, a life so magnificent 
and so wretched. Claes' affairs were no secret. To the 
shame of humanity, there were no generous natures to be 
found in Douai who could reverence the passionate persistence 
of the man of genius. Balthazar was put under the ban of 
society; he was a bad father, who had run through half-a- 



216 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

dozen fortunes, who had spent millions of francs on the search 
of the philosopher's stone in this enlightened nineteenth cen- 
tury, the century of incredulity, etc. He was maligned 

and calumniated; he was branded with the contemptuous 
epithet of "The alchemist." "He wants to make gold! " 
They scoffed, and cast it in his teeth. 

Has this much-lauded century of ours shown itself so dif- 
ferent from all other centuries? It has left genius to die with 
the brutal indifference of past ages that beheld the deaths of 
Dante, Cervantes, Tasso, e tutti quanti ; and ordinary mortals 
recognize the work of genius even more slowly than kings. 

So these opinions concerning Claes had gradually filtered 
downwards from the aristocratic section to the bourgeoisie, 
and from the bourgeoisie to the masses. Profound compassion 
was felt for the aged chemist by people of his own rank, and 
the populace looked on him with a sort of amused curiosity ; 
both ways of regarding him implied the scornful Vae victis 
with which the crowd closes over fallen greatness. 

People, as they went past the house, used to point out the 
rose-window of the attic where so much gold and coal had 
been wasted. When Balthazar went along the street, they 
pointed the finger at him ; his appearance was often the signal 
for a joke or a pitying word from the children or workpeople ; 
but Le Mulquinier, ever on the watch, translated the whisper- 
ings into a murmur of admiration for his master, who never 
suspected the real truth. 

Balthazar's eyes still preserved the wonderful clearness 
which an inward vision of great ideas had given to them, but 
he had grown deaf. For the peasants, and for vulgar or super- 
stitious minds, the old man was a wizard. The old and 
splendid home of the Claes was spoken of in narrow streets 
and country cottages as the "Devil's House; " nothing was 
lacking to give color to these absurd tales ; even Le Mulqui- 
nier's appearance gave rise to some of the lying legends about 
his master. When, therefore, the poor, faithful, old servant 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 217 

went out to buy their scanty supply of necessaries in the 
market, he not only paid higher prices than any one else for 
his meagre purchases, but he could buy nothing without re- 
ceiving insults thrown in as a sort of make : weight ; he even 
thought himself lucky if the superstitious market-women did 
not refuse to supply him with his miserable pittance of food, 
for it too often happened that they were afraid to endanger 
their souls by dealing with a tool of Satan. 

The general feeling of the town was hostile to the old 
great man and the companion of his labors. They were not 
the better thought of because they were ill clad and wore the 
shabby clothing of decent poverty that shrinks from begging. 
Open insult was sure to be offered them sooner or later ; and 
Pierquin, for the sake of his family, always took the precau- 
tion of sending two or three of his servants to follow the old 
men at a distance, and to interfere, if necessary, to protect 
them, for the influence of the Revolution of July had not 
improved the manners of the populace. 

By some inexplicable chance Claes and Le Mulquinier had 
gone out early that morning, and M. and Mme. Pierquin's 
secret vigilance was for once at fault ; the two old men were 
out alone in the town. On their way home they sat down to 
rest in the Place Saint- Jacques, on a bench in the sun. Boys 
and children were continually passing by on their way to 
school, and when they looked across the square and saw the 
two helpless old men, whose faces brightened as they basked 
in the sunlight, the children made little groups, and began to 
talk. Children's chatter usually ends in laughter, and laugh- 
ter leads to mischief, which has no cruel intention. Seven or 
eight of the first-comers stood at a little distance and stared 
at the strange old faces ; Le Mulquinier heard their smothered 
laughter. 

"There," cried one, "do you see that one with the fore- 
head like a knee? " 

"Yes." 



218 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

"Well, then, he is a born wise man." 

" Papa says he makes gold," put in another. 

" Gold ? What way does he make it ? " asked a third, with 
a contemptuous gesture. 

The smallest of the children, who carried a basket full of 
provisions, and was munching a slice of bread and butter, 
went artlessly up to the bench, and said to Le Mulquinier 

"Is it true that you make pearls and diamonds, sir? " 

"Yes, little man," said Le Mulquinier, smiling, and pat- 
ting his cheeks, " learn your lessons, and grow very wise, and 
we will give you some." 

" Oh, sir ! give me some too ! " was the general cry. 

All the children scampered up and crowded about the 
two chemists like a flock of birds ; their cries roused Balthazar 
from his musings ; he gave a start that made them laugh. 

"Ah! you little rascals, respect a great man!" said 
Le Mulquinier. 

"A harlequin!" shouted the children; "you are sor- 
cerers ! yes, sorcerers ! old sorcerers ! sorcerers, ah ! " 

Le Mulquinier sprang to his feet, raised his cane, and 
threatened the children, who promptly fled, and picked up 
stones and mud. A workman who was eating his breakfast 
not far away looked up and saw Le Mulquinier take his cane 
to drive the children away, thought that he had beaten them, 
and came to their aid with the formidable cry, " Down with 
the sorcerers ! ' ' 

Thus encouraged, the children were pelting the two old 
men with stones as the Comte de Solis, followed by Pierquin's 
servants, came into the square. They were too late to stop 
the shower of mud with which the children bespattered the 
great man and his servant; the mischief was done. Balthazar 
had hitherto preserved the full force of his faculties by the 
monastic habits and temperate life of a man of science, in 
whom one all-absorbing passion had extinguished all others. 
In the course of his ruminations the meaning of this scene 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 219 

suddenly dawned on him. The sudden revulsion of feeling, 
the contrast between the ideal world in which he lived and 
the real world about him, was too great a shock ; he fell into 
Le Mulquinier's arms, struck down by paralysis. He was 
carried home on a stretcher, his two sons-in-law and the ser- 
vants going with him. Nothing could prevent the crowd that 
gathered from following the old man to his house. Felicie 
and her children were there already, and Gabriel and his 
wife had come from Cambrai, hearing through their sister of 
Marguerite's return. 

The old man's return to his house was piteous to see. 
Even as he lay between life and death his chief terror seemed 
to be the thought that his children would discover the wretch- 
edness in which he had been living. As soon as a bed could 
be made up in the parlor, every care was bestowed on Bal- 
thazar, and towards the end of the day some hopes of his 
recovery were entertained. But in spite of all that skill could 
do, the paralysis had left him in an almost childish condition. 
After the other symptoms had abated, his speech was still 
affected, perhaps because anger had taken all power to speak 
from him when he attempted to remonstrate with the children. 

General indignation was felt in the town when the news of 
the affair became known. Some mysterious law working in 
the minds of men had wrought a revulsion of feeling, and M. 
Claes regained his popularity. He suddenly became a great 
man. All the admiration and esteem which had been so long 
withdrawn was his again. Every one praised his patient toil, 
his courage, his strength of will, his genius. The magistrates 
were disposed to treat the small delinquents very harshly ; but 
the evil was done, and Claes' own family were the first to ask 
that the affair should be smoothed over. 

The parlor was refurnished by Marguerite's directions, silken 
hangings covered the bare walls where the carved panels once 
had been ; and when, a few days after his seizure, Claes recov- 
ered the use of his faculties, he found himself among luxurious 



220 THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 

surroundings ; nothing that could contribute to his comfort 
had been forgotten. Marguerite came into the parlor just as 
he tried to say that surely she must have come back. A flush 
came over Balthazar's face at the sight of her ; his eyes were 
full of tears that did not fall ; he was still able to grasp his 
daughter's hand in his cold fingers, and in this pressure he put 
all the feelings and the thoughts that he could not utter. 
There was something very sacred and solemn in this farewell, 
from a dying brain and a heart to which gratitude had brought 
back some of the glow of the warmth of life. 

Exhausted by all his fruitless labors, worn out by his wrest- 
lings with a giant problem, seeing, perhaps, with despair in his 
heart, the oblivion that waited for his memory, the Titan 
neared the end of his life. Everything about him spoke of his 
children's reverent affection. There were signs of wealth and 
plenty, if these things could have rejoiced his eyes; the fair 
picture of their faces to gladden his heart. He could now 
only express his affection for them by looks, and his eyes were 
always full of tenderness ; it was as if they had suddenly 
acquired a strange and varied power of speech, and the light 
that shone in them was a language easy to understand. 

Marguerite paid her father's debts ; and though the ancient 
glories of the house of Claes had departed, it was shortly 
refurnished with a magnificence that effaced all memories of 
its forlorn condition. She was never absent from Balthazar's 
bedside, and strove to guess his thoughts and to anticipate 
his slightest wish ; never in action or word displaying aught 
but the tenderest affection for him. 

Several months went by in alternations of hope and despair 
that mark the progress of the final struggle between life and 
death in an aged frame. His children came to see him every 
morning, and spent the day in his room ; they dined there in 
the parlor by his bedside, and only left him while he slept. 
The newspapers seemed to be his principal resource ; he took 
a great interest in the political events of the time, listening 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 221 

attentively to M. de Solis, who read them aloud to him, and 
sat close beside him that he might hear every word. 

One night towards the end of the year 1832 Balthazar's 
condition grew critical; the nurse, alarmed by a sudden 
change in the patient, sent for Dr. Pierquin, and when he 
came, he decided to remain ; Claes' convulsions seemed so 
like the agony of death that the doctor feared any moment 
might be his last. 

The old man was struggling against the paralysis that bound 
his limbs. He made incredible efforts to speak; his lips 
moved, but no sound came from them ; his thoughts seemed 
to blaze from his eyes ; his face was drawn with unheard-of 
anguish ; great drops of perspiration broke out on his fore- 
head ; his fingers twitched nervously in his despair. 

That morning when his children came and embraced him 
with the affection that grew more intense and more clinging 
with the near approach of death, he showed none of the 
happiness that he always felt in their tenderness. 

Emmanuel, at a warning glance from Pierquin, hastily tore 
the newspaper from its wrapper, thinking that perhaps the 
reading might divert Balthazar's mind from his physical suffer- 
ings. As he unfolded the sheet the words DISCOVERY OF THE 
ABSOLUTE caught his eyes and startled him, and he read the 
paragraph to Marguerite under his breath. It told of a bar- 
gain concluded by a celebrated Polish mathematician for the 
secret of the Absolute, which he had discovered. At the con- 
clusion of the paragraph Marguerite asked her husband for 
the paper, but, low as the tones of his voice had been, 
Balthazar had heard him. 

Suddenly the dying man raised himself on his elbows ; his 
glance seemed like lightning to his terror-stricken children, 
the hair that fringed his temples rose, every wrinkle in his 
face quivered with excitement, a breath of inspiration passed 
over his face and made it sublime. He raised a hand, clenched 
in frenzy, with the cry of Archimedes EUREKA ! (/ have 



222 



THE QUEST OF THE ABSOLUTE. 



found iff) he called in piercing tones, then he fell heavily 
back like a dead body, and died with an awful moan. His 
despair could be read in the frenzied expression of his eyes 
until the doctor closed them. He could not leave to science 
the solution of the great enigma revealed to him too late, as 
the veil was torn asunder by the fleshless fingers of Death. 




THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

(Le Chef (Tceuvre inconnu.} 

To a Lord. 
I. GILLETTE. 

ON a cold December morning in the year 1612, a young 
man, whose clothing was somewhat of the thinnest, was walk- 
ing to and fro before a gateway in the Rue des Grands- 
Augustins in Paris. He went up and down the street before 
this house with the irresolution of a gallant who dares not 
venture into the presence of the woman whom he loves for 
the first time, easy of access though she may be ; but after a 
sufficiently long interval of hesitation, he at last crossed the 
threshold and inquired of an old woman, who was sweeping 
out a large room on the ground floor, whether Master Porbus 
was within. Receiving a reply in the affirmative, the young 
man went slowly up the staircase, like a gentleman but newly 
come to court, and doubtful as to his reception by the king. 
He came to a stand once more on the landing at the head of 
the stairs, and again he hesitated before raising his hand to 
the grotesque knocker on the door of the studio, where doubt- 
less the painter was at work Master Porbus, sometime painter 
in ordinary to Henri IV. till Marie de Medicis took Rubens 
into favor. 

The young man felt deeply stirred by an emotion that must 
thrill the hearts of all great artists when, in the pride of their 
youth and their first love of art, they come into the presence of 
a master or stand before a masterpiece. For all human senti- 
ments there is a time of early blossoming, a day of generous 
enthusiasm that gradually fades until nothing is left of happi- 

(223) 



224 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

ness but a memory, and glory is known for a delusion. Of 
all these delicate and short-lived emotions, none so resemble 
love as the passion of a young artist for his art, as he is about 
to enter on the blissful martyrdom of his career of glory and 
disaster, of vague expectations and real disappointments. 

Those who have missed this experience in the early days of 
light purses ; who have not, in the dawn of their genius, stood 
in the presence of a master and felt the throbbing of their 
hearts, will always carry in their inmost souls a chord that has 
never been touched, and in their work an indefinable quality 
will be lacking, a something in the stroke of the brush, a 
mysterious element that we call poetry. The swaggerers, so 
puffed up by self-conceit that they are overly confident of 
their success, can never be taken for men of talent save by 
fools. From this point of view, if youthful modesty is the 
measure of youthful genius, the stranger on the staircase might 
be allowed to have something in him ; for he seemed to pos- 
sess the indescribable diffidence, the early timidity that artists 
are bound to lose in the course of a great career, even as 
pretty women lose it as they make progress in the arts of 
coquetry. Self-distrust vanishes as triumph succeeds to tri- 
umph, and modesty is, perhaps, distrust of self. 

The poor neophyte was so overcome by the consciousness 
of his own presumption and insignificance, that it began to 
look as if he was hardly likely to penetrate into the studio of 
the painter, to whom we owe the wonderful portrait of Henri 
IV. But fate was propitious ; an old man came up the stair- 
case. From the quaint costume of this new-comer, his collar 
of magnificent lace, and a certain serene gravity in his bear- 
ing, the first arrival thought that this personage must be either 
a patron or a friend of the court painter. He stood aside 
therefore upon the landing to allow the visitor to pass, scru- 
tinizing him curiously the while. Perhaps he might hope to 
find the good nature of an artist or to receive the good offices 
of an amateur not unfriendly to the arts; but besides an 



THE OLDER MAN , . KNOCKED THRICE AT THE DOOR. 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 225 

almost diabolical expression in the face that met his gaze, 
there was that indescribable something which has an irresistible 
attraction for artists. 

Picture that face. A bald high forehead and rugged jutting 
brows above a small flat nose turned up at the end, as in the 
portraits of Socrates and Rabelais ; deep lines about the mock- 
ing mouth ; a short chin, carried proudly, covered with a 
grizzled pointed beard ; sea-green eyes that age might seem to 
have dimmed were it not for the contrast between the iris and 
the surrounding mother-of-pearl tints, so that it seemed as if 
under the stress of anger or enthusiasm there would be a mag- 
netic power to quell or kindle in their glances. The face was 
withered beyond wont by the fatigue of years, yet it seemed 
aged still more by the thoughts that had worn away both soul 
and body. There were no lashes to the deep-set eyes, and 
scarcely a trace of the arching lines of the eyebrows above 
them. Set this head on a spare and feeble frame, place it in 
a frame of lace wrought like an engraved silver fish-slice, im- 
agine a heavy gold chain over the old man's black doublet, 
and you will have some dim idea of this strange personage, 
who seemed still more fantastic in the sombre twilight of the 
staircase. One of Rembrandt's portraits might have stepped 
down from its frame to walk in an appropriate atmosphere of 
gloom, such as the great painter loved. The older man gave 
the younger a shrewd glance, and knocked thrice at the door. 
It was opened by a man of forty or thereabouts, who seemed 
to be an invalid. 

"Good-day, master." 

Probus bowed respectfully, and held the door open for the 
younger man to enter, thinking that the latter accompanied 
his visitor ; and when he saw that the neophyte stood awhile 
as if spellbound, feeling, as every artist-nature must feel, the 
fascinating influence of the first sight of a studio in which the 
material processes of art are revealed, Probus troubled himself 
no more about this second comer. 
15 



226 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

All the light in the studio came from a window in the roof 
and was concentrated upon an easel, where a canvas stood un- 
touched as yet save for three or four outlines in chalk. The 
daylight scarcely reached the remoter angles and corners of 
the vast room ; they were as dark as night, but the silver orna- 
mented breastplate of a Reiter's corslet, that hung upon the 
wall, attracted a stray gleam to its dim abiding- place among 
the brown shadows ; or a shaft of light shot across the carved 
and glistening surface of an antique sideboard covered with 
curious silver-plate, or struck out a line of glittering dots 
among the raised threads of the golden warp of some old bro- 
caded curtains, where the lines of the stiff heavy folds were 
broken, as the stuff had been flung carelessly down to serve as 
a model. 

Plaster Scorches stood about the room ; and here and 
there, on shelves and tables, lay fragments of classical sculp- 
ture torsos of antique goddesses, worn smooth as though all 
the years of the centuries that had passed over them had been 
lovers' kisses. The walls were covered, from floor to ceiling, 
with countless sketches of charcoal, red chalk, or pen and ink. 
Amid the litter and confusion of color boxes, overturned 
stools, flasks of oil, and essences, there was just room to 
move so as to reach the illuminated circular space where the 
easel stood. The light from the window in the roof fell full 
upon Porbus' pale face and on the ivory-tinted forehead of 
his strange visitor. But in another moment the younger man 
heeded nothing but a picture that had already become famous 
even in those stormy days of political and religious revolutions, 
a picture that a few of the zealous worshipers, who have so 
often kept the sacred fire of art alive in evil days, were wont 
to go on pilgrimages to see. The beautiful panel represented 
a Saint Mary of Egypt about to pay her passage across the 
seas. It was a masterpiece destined for Marie de Mdicis, 
who sold it in later years of poverty. 

"I like your saint," the old man remarked, addressing 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 227 

Porbus. " I would give you ten golden crowns for her over 
and above the price the Queen is paying ; but as for putting a 
spoke in that wheel the devil take it ! " 

"It is good then?" 

"Hey! hey!" said the old man; "good, say you? 
Yes and no. Your good woman is not badly done, but she 
is not alive. You artists fancy that when a figure is correctly 
drawn, and everything in its place according to the rules of 
anatomy, there is nothing more to be done. You make up 
the flesh tints beforehand on your palettes according to your 
formulae, and fill in the outlines with due care that one side 
of the face shall be darker than the other ; and because you 
look from time to time at a naked woman who stands on the 
platform before you, you fondly imagine that you have copied 
nature, think yourselves to be painters, believe that you have 
wrested His secret from God. Pshaw ! You may know your 
syntax thoroughly and make no blunders in your grammar, 
but it takes that and something more to make a great poet. 
Look at your saint, Porbus ! At a first glance, she is admi- 
rable ; look at her again, and you see at once that she is glued 
to the background, and that you could not walk round her. 
She is a silhouette that turns but one side of her face to all 
beholders, a figure cut out of canvas, an image with no power 
to move nor change her position. I feel as if there were no 
air between that arm and the background, no space, no sense 
of distance in your canvas. The perspective is perfectly cor- 
rect, the strength of the coloring is accurately diminished 
with the distance ; but, in spite of these praiseworthy efforts, 
I could never bring myself to believe that the warm breath 
of life comes and goes in that beautiful body. It 
seems to me that if I laid my hand on the firm rounded 
throat, it would be cold as marble to the touch. No, my 
friend, the blood does not flow beneath that ivory skin, the 
tide of life does not flush those delicate fibres, the purple 
veins that trace a network beneath the transparent amber of 



228 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

her brow and breast. Here the pulse seems to beat, there it 
is motionless, life and death are at strife in every detail. Here 
you see a woman, there a statue, there again a corpse. Your 
creation is incomplete. You had only power to breathe a 
portion of your soul into your beloved work. The fire of 
Prometheus died out again and again in your hands ; many a 
spot in your picture has not been touched by ' the divine 
flame." 

"But how is it, dear master?" Porbus asked respectfully, 
while the young man with difficulty repressed his strong de- 
sire to beat the critic. 

"Ah! " said the old man, "it is this! You have halted 
between two manners. You have hesitated between drawing 
and color, between the dogged attention to detail, the stiff 
precision of the German masters and the dazzling glow, 
the joyous exuberance of Italian painters. You have 
set yourselves to imitate Hans Holbein and Titian, Albrecht 
Diirer and Paul Veronese in a single picture. A magnificent 
ambition truly, but what has come of it. Your work has 
neither the severe charm of a dry execution nor the magical 
illusion of Italian chiaro-oscuro. Titian's rich golden coloring 
poured into Albrecht Durer's austere outlines has shattered 
them, like molten bronze bursting through the mould that is 
not strong enough to hold it. In other places the outlines 
have held firm, imprisoning and obscuring the magnificent 
glowing flood of Venetian color. The drawing of the face 
is not perfect, the coloring is not perfect ; traces of that un- 
lucky indecision are to be seen everywhere. Unless you felt 
strong enough to fuse the two opposed manners in the fire of 
your own genius, you should have cast in your lot boldly with 
the one or the other, and so have obtained the unity which 
simulates one of the conditions of life itself. Your work is 
only true in the centres ; your outlines are false, they project 
nothing, there is no hint of anything behind them. There is 
truth here," said the old man, pointing to the breast of the 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 229 

saint, "and again here," he went on, indicating the rounded 
shoulder. "But there," once more returning to the column 
of the throat, " everything is false. Let us go no farther into 
detail ; you would be disheartened." 

The old man sat down on a stool, and remained a while 
without speaking, with his face buried in his hands. 

"Yet I studied that throat from the life, dear master," 
Porbus began ; " it happens sometimes, for our misfortune, 
that real effects in nature look improbable when transferred to 
canvas ' ' 

'' The aim of art is not to copy nature, but to express it. 
You are not a servile copyist, but a poet ! " cried the old man 
sharply, cutting Porbus short with an imperious gesture. 
" Otherwise a sculptor might make a plaster cast of a 
living woman and save himself all further trouble. Well, try 
to make a cast of your mistress' hand, and set up the thing 
before you. You will see a monstrosity, a dead mass, bearing 
no resemblance to the living hand : you would be compelled 
to have recourse to the chisel of a sculptor who, without mak- 
ing an exact copy, would represent for you its movement and 
its life. We must detect the spirit, the informing soul in the 
appearances of things and beings. Effects ! What are effects 
but the accidents of life, not life itself? A hand, since I 
have taken that example, is not only a part of a body, it is 
the expression and extension of a thought that must be grasped 
and rendered. Neither painter nor poet nor sculptor may 
separate the effect from the cause, which are inevitably con- 
tained the one in the other. There begins the real struggle ! 
Many a painter achieves success instinctively, unconscious of 
the task that is set before art. You draw a woman, yet you 
do not see her ! Not so do you succeed in wresting nature's 
secrets from her ! You are reproducing mechanically the 
model that you copied in your master's studio. You do not 
penetrate far enough into the inmost secrets of the mystery 
of form ; you do not seek with love enough and perseverance 



230 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

enough after the form that baffles and eludes you. Beauty is 
a thing severe and unapproachable, never to be won by a 
languid love. You must lie in wait for her coming and 
take her unawares, press her hard and clasp her in a tight 
embrace, and force her to yield. Form is a Proteus more 
intangible and more manifold than the Proteus of the legend; 
compelled, only after long wrestling, to stand forth manifest 
in his true aspect. Some of you are satisfied with the first 
shape, or at most by the second or the third that appears. 
Not thus wrestle the victors, the unvanquished painters who 
never suffer themselves to be deluded by all those treacherous 
shadow-shapes; they persevere till nature at the last stands 
bare to their gaze, and her very soul is revealed. 

"In this manner worked Rafael," said the old man, taking 
off his cap to express his reverence for the king of art. " His 
transcendent greatness came of the intimate sense that, in 
him, seems as if it would shatter external form. Form in his 
figures (as with us) is a symbol, a means of communicating 
sensations, ideas, the vast imaginings of a poet. Every face 
is a whole world. The subject of the portrait appeared for 
him bathed in the light of a divine vision ; it was revealed by 
an inner voice, the finger of God laid bare the sources of ex- 
pression in the past of a whole life. 

"You clothe your women in fair raiment of flesh, in gra- 
cious veiling of hair; but where is the blood, the source of 
passion and of calm, the cause of the particular effect ? Why, 
this brown Egyptian of yours, my good Porbus, is a colorless 
creature ! These figures that you set before us are painted 
bloodless phantoms ; and you call that painting, you call that 
art! 

"Because you have made something more like a woman 
than a house, you think that you have set your fingers on the 
goal ; you are quite proud that you need not to write currus 
venustus or pulcher homo beside yonr figures, as early painters 
were wont to do, and you fancy that you have done wonders. 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 231 

Ah ! my good friend, there is still something more to learn, and 
you will use up a great deal of chalk and cover many a canvas 
before you will learn it. Yes, truly, a woman carries her head in 
just such a way, so she holds her garments gathered into her 
hand ; her eyes grow dreamy and soft with that expression of 
meek sweetness, and even so the quivering shadow of the 
lashes hovers upon her cheeks. It is all there, and yet it is 
not there. What is lacking ? A nothing, but that nothing 
is everything. 

" There you have the semblance of life, but you do not ex- 
press its fulness and effluence, that indescribable something, 
perhaps the soul itself, that envelops the outlines of the body 
like a haze; that flower of life, in short, that Titian and 
Rafael caught. Your utmost achievement hitherto has only 
brought you to the starting-point. You might now perhaps 
begin to do excellent work, but you grow weary all too soon ; 
and the crowd admires, and those who know smile. 

" Oh, Mabuse ! oh, my master ! " cried the strange speaker, 
" thou art a thief! Thou hast carried away the secret of life 
with thee! " 

"Nevertheless," he began again, "this picture of yours is 
worth more than all the paintings of that rascal Rubens, with 
his mountains of Flemish flesh raddled with vermilion, his 
torrents of red hair, his riot of color. You, at least, have 
color there, and feeling and drawing the three essentials in 
art." 

The young man roused himself from his deep musings. 

"Why, my good man, the saint is sublime!" he cried. 
"There is a subtlety of imagination about those two figures, 
the Saint Mary and the Shipman, that cannot be found among 
Italian masters ; I do not know a single one of them capable 
of imaging the Shipman's hesitation." 

" Did that little malapert come with you? " asked Porbus 
of the older man. 

"Alas ! master, pardon my boldness," cried the neophyte, 



232 THE UNKNO WN MASTERPIECE. 

and the color mounted to his face. "I am unknown a 
dauber by instinct, and but lately come to this city the 
fountain-head of all learning." 

" Set to work," said Porbus, handing him a bit of red chalk 
and a sheet of paper. 

The new-comer quickly sketched the Saint Mary line for 
line. 

"Aha!" exclaimed the old man. "Your name?" he 
added. 

The young man quickly wrote "Nicolas Poussin " below 
the sketch. 

" Not bad that for a beginning," said the strange speaker, 
who had discoursed so wildly. " I see that we can talk of art 
in your presence. I do not blame you for admiring Porbus' 
saint. In the eyes of the world she is a masterpiece, and those 
alone who have been initiated into the inmost mysteries of art 
can discover her shortcomings. But it is worth while to give 
you the lesson, for you are able to understand it, so I will 
show you how little it needs to complete this picture. You 
must be all eyes, all attention, for it may be that such a chance 
of learning will never come in your way again. Porbus ! your 
palette." 

Porbus went in search of palette and brushes. The little 
old man turned back his sleeves with impatient energy, seized 
the palette, covered with many hues, that Porbus handed to 
him, and snatched rather than took a handful of brushes 
of various sizes from the hands of his acquaintance. His 
pointed beard suddenly bristled a singular movement 
that expressed the object of a lover's fancy. As he loaded 
his brush, he muttered between his teeth, " These paints are 
only fit to fling out of the window, together with the fellow 
who ground them, their crudeness and falseness are disgusting ! 
How can one paint with this?" 

He dipped the tip of the brush with feverish eagerness in 
the different pigments, making the circuit of the palette several 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 233 

times more quickly than the organist of a cathedral sweeps 
the octaves on the keyboard of his clavier for the O Filii at 
Easter. 

Porbus and Poussin, on either side of the easel, stood stock- 
still, watching with intense interest. 

"Look, young man," he began again, "see how three or 
four strokes of the brush and a thin glaze of blue let in the 
free air to play about the head of the poor saint, who must 
have felt stifled and oppressed by the close atmosphere ! See 
how the drapery begins to flutter ; you feel that it is lifted by 
the breeze ! A moment ago it hung as heavily and stiffly as 
if it were held out by pins. Do you see how the satin sheen 
that I have just given to the breast rends the pliant, silken 
softness of a young girl's skin, and how the brown-red, 
blended with burnt ochre, brings warmth into the .cold gray 
of the deep shadow where the blood lay congealed instead of 
coursing through the veins? Young man, young man, no 
master could teach you how to do this that I am doing before 
your eyes. Mabuse alone possessed the secret of giving life 
to his figures ; Mabuse had but one pupil that was I. I have 
had none, and I am old. You have sufficient intelligence to 
imagine the rest from the glimpses that I am giving you." 

While the old man was speaking, he gave a touch here and 
there ; sometimes two strokes of the brush, sometimes a single 
one; but every stroke told so well that the whole picture 
seemed transfigured the painting was flooded with light. 
He worked with such passionate fervor that beads of sweat 
gathered upon his bare forehead ; he worked so quickly, in 
brief, impatient jerks, that it seemed to young Poussin as if 
some familiar spirit inhabiting the body of this strange being 
took a grotesque pleasure in making use of the man's hands 
against his own will. The unearthly glitter of his eyes, the 
convulsive movements that seemed like struggles, gave to this 
fancy a semblance of truth which could not but stir a young 
imagination. The old man continued, saying as he did so 



234 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

" Paf! paf ! that is how to lay it on, young man ! Little 
touches ! come and bring a glow into those icy cold tones for 
me ! Just so ! Pon ! pon ! pon 1 ' ' and those parts of the 
picture that he had pointed out as cold and lifeless flushed 
with warmer hues, a few bold strokes of color brought all 
the tones of the picture into the required harmony with the 
glowing tints of the Egyptian, and the differences in tempera- 
ment vanished. 

" Look you, youngster, the last touches make the picture. 
Porbus has given it a hundred strokes for every one of mine. 
No one thanks us for what lies beneath. Bear that in mind." 

At last the restless spirit stopped, and turning to Porbus 
and Poussin, who were speechless with admiration, he spoke 

" This is not as good as my Belle Noiseuse ; still one might 
put one's name to such a thing as this. Yes, I would put my 
name to it," he added, rising to reach for a mirror, in which 
he looked at the picture. "And now," he said, "will you 
both come and breakfast with me. I have a smoked ham and 
some very fair wine ! Eh ! eh ! the times may be bad, but 
we can still have some talk about art ! We can talk like 
equals. Here is a little fellow who has aptitude," he added, 
laying a hand on Nicolas Poussin's shoulder. 

In this way the stranger became aware of the threadbare con- 
dition of the Norman's doublet. He drew a leather purse 
from his girdle, felt in it, found two gold coins, and held 
them out. 

" I will buy your sketch," he said. 

" Take it," said Porbus, as he saw the other start and flush 
with embarrassment, for Poussin had the pride of poverty. 
" Pray take it ; he has a couple of king's ransoms in his 
pouch!" 

The three came down together from the studio, and, talking 
of art by the way, reached a picturesque wooden house hard 
by the Pont Saint-Michel. Poussin wondered a moment at its 
ornament, at the knocker, at the frames of the casements, at 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 235 

the scroll-work designs, and in the next he stood in a vast 
low-ceiled room. A table, covered with tempting dishes, 
stood near the blazing fire, and (luck unhoped for) he was in 
the company of two great artists full of genial good-humor. 

" Do not look too long at that canvas, young man," said 
Porbus, when he saw that Poussin was standing, struck with 
wonder, before a painting. "You would fall a victim to 
despair." 

It was the Adam painted by Mabuse to purchase his release 
from the prison where his creditors had so long kept him. 
And as a matter of fact, the figure stood out so boldly and 
convincingly that Nicolas Poussin began to understand the 
real meaning of the words poured out by the old artist, who 
was himself looking at the picture with apparent satisfaction, 
but without enthusiasm. "I have done better than that!" 
he seemed to be saying to himself. 

" There is life in it," he said aloud ; " in that respect my 
poor master here surpassed himself, but there is some lack of 
truth in the background. The man lives indeed ; he is rising, 
and will come towards us; but the atmosphere, the sky, the 
air, the breath of the breeze you look and feel for them, but 
they are not there. And then the man himself is, after all, only 
a man ! Ah ! but the one man in the world who came direct 
from the hands of God must have had a something divine 
about him that is wanting here. Mabuse himself would grind 
his teeth and say so when he was not drunk." 

Poussin looked from the speaker to Porbus, and from Porbus 
to the speaker, with restless curiosity. He went up to the 
latter to ask for the name of their host ; but the painter laid 
a finger on his lips with an air of mystery. The young man's 
interest was excited ; he kept silence, but hoped that sooner or 
later some word might be let fall that would reveal the name of 
his entertainer. It was evident that he was a man of talent and 
very wealthy, for Porbus listened to him respectfully, and the 
vast room was crowded with marvels of art. 



236 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

A magnificent portrait of a woman, hung against the dark 
oak panels of the wall, next caught Poussin's attention. 

"What a glorious Giorgione ! " he cried. 

" No," said his host, " it is an early daub of mine " 

" Gramercy ! I am in the abode of the god of painting, it 
seems ! " cried Poussin ingenuously. 

The old man smiled as if he had long grown familiar with 
such praise. 

"Master Frenhofer ! " said Porbus, "do you think you 
could send me a little of your capital Rhine wine?" 

"A couple of pipes!" answered his host; "one to dis- 
charge a debt, for the pleasure of seeing your pretty sinner, 
the other as a present from a friend." 

"Ah ! if I had my health," returned Porbus, " and if you 
would but let me see your Belle Noiseuse, I would paint some 
great picture, with breadth in it and depth ; the figures should 
be life-size." 

" Let you see my work ! " cried the painter in agitation. 
" No, no ! it is not perfect yet ; something still remains for 
me to do. Yesterday, in the dusk," he said, " I thought I 
had reached the end. Her eyes seemed moist, the flesh 
quivered, something stirred the tresses of her hair. She 
breathed ! But though I had succeeded in reproducing 
nature's roundness and relief on the flat surface of the canvas, 
this morning, by daylight, I found out my mistake. Ah ! to 
achieve that glorious result I have studied the works of the 
great masters of color, stripping off coat after coat of color 
from Titian's canvas, analyzing the pigments of the king of 
light. Like that sovereign painter, I began the face in a 
slight tone with a supple and fat paste for shadow is but an 
accident ; bear that in mind, youngster ! Then I began 
afresh, and by half-tones and thin glazes of color less and less 
transparent, I gradually deepened the tints to the deepest 
black of the strongest shadows. An ordinary painter makes 
his shadows something entirely different in nature from the 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 237 

high-lights ; they are wood or brass, or what you will, any- 
thing but flesh in shadow. You feel that even if those figures 
were to alter their position, those shadow stains would never 
be cleansed away, those parts of the picture would never glow 
with light. 

" I have escaped one mistake, into which the most famous 
painters have sometimes fallen ; in my canvas the whiteness 
shines through the densest and most persistent shadow. I have 
not marked out the limits of my figure in hard, dry outlines, 
and brought every least anatomical detail into prominence 
(like a host of dunces, who fancy that they can draw because 
they can trace a line elaborately smooth and clean), for the 
human body is not contained within the limits of line. In 
this the sculptor can approach the truth more nearly than we 
painters. Nature's way is a complicated succession of curve 
within curve. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as 
drawing. Do not laugh, young man ; strange as that speech 
may seem to you, you will understand the truth in it some 
day. A line is a method of expressing the effect of light 
upon an object ; but there are no lines in nature, everything 
is solid. We draw by modeling that is to say, we dis- 
engage an object from its setting ; the distribution of the 
light alone gives to a body the appearance by which we know 
it. So I have not defined the outlines ; I have suffused them 
with a haze of half-tints, warm or golden, in such a way that 
you cannot lay your finger on the exact spot where back- 
ground and contours meet. Seen from near, the picture 
looks a blur : it seems to lack definition ; but step back two 
paces, and the whole thing becomes clear, distinct, and solid ; 
the body stands out, the rounded form comes into relief; you 
feel that the air plays round it. And yet I am not satisfied ; 
I have misgivings. Perhaps one ought not to draw a single 
line ; perhaps it would be better to attack the face from the 
centre, taking the highest prominences first, proceeding from 
them through the whole range of shadows to the heaviest of 



238 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

all. Is not this the method of the sun, the divine painter of 
the world ? Oh, nature ! nature ! who has surprised thee, 
fugitive ? But, after all, too much knowledge, like ignorance, 
brings you to a negation. I have doubts about my work." 

There was a pause. Then the old man spoke again : "I 
have been at work upon it for ten years, young man ; but 
what are ten short years in a struggle with nature ? Do we 
know how long Pygmalion wrought at the one statue that 
came to life?" 

The old man fell into deep musings, and gazed before him 
with wide unseeing eyes, while he played unheedingly with 
his knife. 

"Look, he is in converse with his dcemon\ " murmured 
Porbus. 

At the word, Nicolas Poussin felt himself carried away by 
an unaccountable accession of artist's curiosity. For him the 
old man, at once intent and inert, the seer with the unseeing 
eyes, became something more than a man a fantastic spirit 
living in a mysterious world, and countless vague thoughts 
awoke within his soul. The effect of this species of fascina- 
tion upon his mind can no more be described in words than 
the passionate longing awakened in an exile's heart by the 
song that recalls his home. He thought of the scorn that the 
old man affected to display for the noblest efforts of art, of 
his wealth, his manners, of the deference paid to him by Por- 
bus. The mysterious picture, the work of patience on which 
he had wrought so long in secret, was doubtless a work of 
genius, for the head of the Virgin which young Poussin had 
admired so frankly was beautiful even beside Mabuse's Adam 
there was no mistaking the imperial manner of one of the 
princes of art. Everything combined to set the old man 
beyond the limits of human nature. 

Out of the wealth of fancies in Nicolas Poussin's brain an 
idea grew, and gathered shape and clearness. He saw in this 
supernatural being a complete type of the artist nature, a na- 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 239 

ture mocking and kindly, barren and prolific, an erratic spirit 
intrusted with great and manifold powers, which she too often 
abuses, leading sober reason, the Philistine, and sometimes 
even the amateur forth into a stony wilderness where they see 
nothing; but the white-winged maiden herself, wild as her 
fancies may be, finds epics there and castles and works of 
art. For Poussin, the enthusiast, the old man, was suddenly 
transfigured, and became art incarnate, art with its mysteries, 
its vehement passion and its dreams. For Poussin the old 
man now represented a grand ideal. 

"Yes, my dear Porbus," Frenhofer continued, "hitherto 
I have never found a flawless model, a body with outlines of 
perfect beauty, the carnations Ah! where does she live?" 
he cried, breaking in upon himself, " the undiscoverable 
Venus of the olden time, for whom we have sought so often, 
only to find the scattered gleams of her beauty here and 
there ? Oh ! to behold once and for one moment, nature 
grown perfect and divine, the ideal at last, I would give all 
that I possess. Nay, beauty divine, I would go to seek thee 
in the dim land of the dead ; like Orpheus, I would go down 
into the hades of art to bring back the life of art from among 
the shadows of death." 

"We can go now," said Porbus to Poussin. " He neither 
hears nor sees us any longer." 

"Let us go to his studio," said young Poussin, wondering 
greatly. 

" Oh ! the old fox takes care that no one shall enter it. 
His treasures are so carefully guarded that it is impossible 
for us to come at them. I have not waited for your sug- 
gestion and your fancy to attempt to lay hands on this mys- 
tery by force." 

" So there is a mystery? " 

"Yes," answered Porbus. "Old Frenhofer is the only 
pupil Mabuse would take. Frenhofer became the painter's 
friend, deliverer, and father ; he sacrificed the greater part 



240 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

of his fortune to enable Mabuse to indulge in riotous extrav- 
agance, and in return Mabuse bequeathed to him the secret 
of relief, the power of giving to his figures the wonderful life, 
the flower of nature, the eternal despair of art, the secret 
which Mabuse knew so well that one day when he had sold 
the flowered brocade suit in which he should have appeared 
at the Entry of Charles V., he accompanied his master in a 
suit of paper painted to resemble the brocade. The peculiar 
richness and splendor of the stuff struck the Emperor; he 
complimented the old drunkard's patron on the artist's ap- 
pearance, and so the trick was brought to light. Frenhofer 
is a passionate enthusiast, who sees above and beyond other 
painters. He has meditated profoundly on color, and the 
absolute truth of line; but by the way of much research he 
has come to doubt the very existence of the objects of his 
search. He says, in moments of despondency, that there is 
no such thing as drawing, and that by means of lines we can 
only reproduce geometrical figures ; but that is overshooting 
the mark ; for by outline and shadow you can reproduce form 
without any color at all, which shows that our art, like nature, 
is composed of an infinite number of elements. Drawing 
gives you the skeleton, the anatomical framework, and color 
puts the life into it ; but life without the skeleton is even 
more incomplete than a skeleton without life. But there is 
something else truer still, and it is this for painters, practice 
and observation are everything ; and when theories and polit- 
ical ideas begin to quarrel with the brushes, the end is doubt, 
as has happened with our good friend, who is half-crack- 
brained enthusiast, half-painter. A sublime painter ! but, 
unluckily for him, he was born to riches, and so he has leisure 
to follow his fancies. Do not you follow his example ! 
Work ! painters have no business to think, except with brush 
in hand." 

" We will find a way into his studio !" cried Poussin con- 
fidently. He had ceased to heed Porbus' remarks. The other 



TJfE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 241 

smiled at the young painter's enthusiasm, asked him to come 
to see him again, and they parted. 

Nicolas Poussin went slowly back to the Rue de la Harpe, 
and passed the modest hostelry where he was lodging without 
noticing it. A feeling of uneasiness prompted him to hurry 
up the crazy staircase till he reached a room at the top, a 
quaint, airy recess under the steep, high-pitched roof common 
among houses in old Paris. In the one dingy window of the 
place sat a young girl, who sprang up at once when she heard 
some one at the door ; it was the prompting of love ; she had 
recognized the painter's touch on the latch. 

"What is the matter with you? " she asked. 

"The matter is is Oh ! I have felt that I am a 

painter ! Until to-day I have had doubts, but now I believe 
in myself ! There is the making of a great man in me ! Never 
mind, Gillette, we shall be rich and happy ! There is gold at 
the tips of those brushes " 

He broke off suddenly. The joy faded from his powerful 
and earnest face as he compared his vast hopes with his slender 
resources. The walls were covered with sketches in chalk on 
sheets of common paper. There were but four canvases in the 
room. Colors were very costly, and the young painter's palette 
was almost bare. Yet in the midst of his poverty he possessed 
and was conscious of the possession of inexhaustible treasures 
of the heart, of a devouring genius equal to all the tasks that 
lay before him. 

He had been brought to Paris by a nobleman among his 
friends, or perchance by the consciousness of his powers ; and 
in Paris he had found a mistress, one of those noble and 
generous souls who choose to suffer by a great man's side, who 
share his struggles and strive to understand his fancies, accept- 
ing their lot of poverty and love as bravely and dauntlessly 
as other womeh will set themselves to bear the burden of 
riches and make a parade of their insensibility. The smile 
that stole over Gillette's lips filled the garret with golden 
16 



242 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

light, and rivaled the brightness of the sun in heaven. The 
sun, moreover, does not always shine in heaven, whereas 
Gillette was always in the garret, absorbed in her passion, 
occupied by Poussin's happiness and sorrow, consoling the 
genius which found an outlet in love before art engrossed it. 

"Listen, Gillette. Come here." 

The girl obeyed joyously, and sprang upon the painter's 
knee. Hers was perfect grace and beauty, and the loveliness 
of spring ; she was adorned with all luxuriant fairness of out- 
ward form, lighted up by the glow of a fair soul within. 

" Oh ! God," he cried ; " I shall never dare to tell her " 

" A secret ? " she cried ; "I must know it ! " 

Poussin was absorbed in his dreams. 

"Do tell it tome!" 

" Gillette, poor beloved heart ! " 

" Oh ! do you want something of me? " 

"Yes." 

"If you wish me to sit once more for you as I did the 
other day," she continued with playful petulance, "I will 
never consent to do such a thing again, for your eyes say 
nothing all the while. You do not think of me at all, and 
yet you look at me " 

" Would you rather have me draw another woman ? " 

"Perhaps if she were very ugly," she said. 

"Well," said Poussin gravely, "and if, for the sake of my 
fame to come, if to make me a great painter, you must sit to 
some one else?" 

" You may try me," she said ; " you know quite well that 
I would not." 

Poussin's head sank on her breast ; he seemed to be over- 
powered by some intolerable joy or sorrow. 

" Listen," she cried, plucking at the sleeve of Poussin's 
threadbare doublet. "I told you, Nick, that I would lay 
down my life for you ; but I never promised you that I in my 
lifetime would lay down my love." 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 243 

" Your love? " cried the young artist. 

" If I showed myself thus to another, you would love me 
no longer, and I should feel myself unworthy of you. Obedi- 
ence to your fancies was a natural and simple thing, was it 
not ! Even against my own will, I am glad and even proud 
to do thy dear will. But for another, out upon it ! " 

"Forgive me, my Gillette," said the painter, falling upon 
his knees; "I would rather be beloved than famous. You 
are fairer than success and honors. There ; fling the pencils 
away, and burn these sketches ! I have made a mistake. I 
was meant to love and not to paint. Perish art and all its 
secrets ! ' ' 

Gillette looked admiringly at him, in an ecstasy of happi- 
ness ! She was triumphant ; she felt instinctively that art 
was laid aside for her sake, and flung like a grain of incense 
at her feet. 

"Yet he is only an old man," Poussin continued; "for 
him you would be a woman, and nothing more. You so 
perfect! " 

"I must love you indeed ! " she cried, ready to sacrifice 
even love's scruples to the lover who had given up so much 
for her sake ; " but I should bring about my own ruin. Ah ! 

to ruin myself, to lose everything for you ! It is a very 

glorious thought ! Ah ! but you will forget me. Oh ! what 
evil thought is this that has come to you? How can you 
ask such a thing of me ? " 

" I love you, and yet I thought of it," he said, with some- 
thing like remorse. " Am I so base a wretch? " 

" Let us consult Pere Hardouin," she said. 

" No, no ! let it be a secret between us. " 

"Very well; I will do it. But you must not be there," 
she said. " Stay at the door with your dagger in your hand j 
and if I call, rush in and kill the painter." 

Poussin forgot everything but art. He held Gillette tightly 
in his arms. 



244 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

" He loves me no longer ! " thought Gillette when she was 
alone. She repented of her resolution already. 

But to these misgivings there soon succeeded a sharper 
pain, and she strove to banish a hideous thought that arose in 
her own heart. It seemed to her that her own love had 
grown less already, with a vague suspicion that the painter 
had fallen somewhat in her eyes. 



II. CATHERINE LESCAULT. 

Three months after Poussin and Porbus met, the latter 
went to see Master Frenhofer. The old man had fallen a 
victim to one of those profound and spontaneous fits of dis- 
couragement that are caused, according to medical logicians, 
by indigestion, flatulence, fever, or enlargement of the spleen ; 
or, if you take the opinion of the Spiritualists, by the imper- 
fections of our moral nature. The good man had simply 
overworked himself in putting the finishing touches to his 
mysterious picture. He was lounging in a huge carved oak 
chair, covered with black leather, and did not change his 
listless attitude, but glanced at Porbus like a man who has 
settled down into low spirits. 

"Well, master," said Porbus, "was the ultramarine bad 
that you sent for to Bruges? Is the new white difficult to 
grind? Is the oil poor, or are the brushes recalcitrant? " 

"Alas!" cried the old man, "for a moment I thought 
that my work was finished ; but I am sure that I am mistaken 
in certain details, and I cannot rest until I have cleared my 
doubts. I am thinking of traveling. I am going to Turkey, 
to Greece, to Asia, in quest of a model, so as to compare my 
picture with the different living forms of nature. Perhaps," 
and a smile of contentment stole over his face, "perhaps I 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 245 

have nature herself up there. At times I am half-afraid that 
a breath may waken her, and that she will escape me." 

He rose to his feet as if to set out at once. 

"Aha!" said Porbus, "I have come just in time to save 
you the trouble and expense of a journey." 

" What? " asked Frenhofer in amazement. 

"Young Poussin is loved by a woman of incomparable and 
flawless beauty. But, dear master, if he consents to lend her 
to you, at the least you ought to let us see your work." 

The old man stood motionless and completely dazed. 

"What!" he cried piteously at last, "show you my crea- 
tion, my bride? Rend the veil that has kept my happiness 
sacred? It would be an infamous profanation. For ten years 
I have lived with her ; she is mine, mine alone ; she loves me. 
Has she not smiled at me, at each stroke of the brush upon 
the canvas ? She has a soul the soul that I have given her. 
She would blush if any eyes but mine should rest on her. To 
exhibit her ! Where is the husband, the lover so vile as to 
bring the woman he loves to dishonor ? When you paint a 
picture for the court, you do not put your whole soul into it ; 
to courtiers you sell lay figures duly colored. My painting is 
no painting, it is a sentiment, a passion. She was born in my 
studio, there she must dwell in maiden solitude, and only 
when clad can she issue thence. Poetry and women only lay 
the last veil aside for their lovers. Have we Rafael's model, 
Ariosto's Angelica, Dante's Beatrice ? Nay, only their form 
and semblance. But this picture, locked away above in my 
studio, is an exception in our art. It is not a canvas, it is a 
woman a woman with whom I talk. I share her thoughts, her 
tears, her laughter. Would you have me fling aside these ten 
years of happiness like a cloak ? Would you have me cease at 
once to be father, lover, and creator ? She is not a creature, 
but a creation. 

" Bring your young painter here. I will give him my 
treasures ; I will give him pictures by Correggio and Michel 



246 THE UNKNO WN MASTERPIECE. 

Angelo and Titian ; I will kiss his footprints in the dust ; but 
make him my rival ! Shame on me. Ah ! ah ! I am a 
lover first, and then a painter. Yes, with my latest sigh I 
could find strength to burn my Belle Noiseuse ; but compel 
her to endure the gaze of a stranger, a young man and a 
painter ! Ah ! no, no ! I would kill him on the morrow 
who should sully her with a glance ! Nay, you, my friend, I 
would kill you with my own hands in a moment if you did 
not kneel in reverence before her ! Now, will you have me 
submit my idol to the careless eyes and senseless criticisms of 
fools ? Ah ! love is a mystery ; it can only live hidden in 
the depths of the heart. You say, even to your friend, ' Be- 
hold her whom I love,' and there is an end of love." 

The old man seemed to have grown young again ; there 
were light and life in his eyes and a faint flush of red in his 
pale face. His hands shook. Porbus was so amazed by the 
passionate vehemence of Frenhofer's words that he knew not 
what to reply to this utterance of an emotion as strange as it 
was profound. Was Frenhofer sane or mad? Had he fallen 
a victim to some freak of the artist's fancy? or were these 
ideas of his produced by that strange lightheadedness which 
comes over us during the long travail of a work of art. 
Would it be possible to come to terms with this singular 
passion ? 

Harassed by all these doubts, Porbus spoke " Is it not 
woman for woman ? " he said. " Does not Poussin submit his 
mistress to your gaze ? " 

" What is she? " retorted the other. "A mistress who will 
be false to him sooner or later. Mine will be faithful to me 
forever. ' ' 

"Well, well," said Porbus, "let us say no more about it. 
But you may die before you will find such flawless beauty as 
hers, even in Asia, and then your picture will be left unfin- 
ished." 

" Oh ! it is finished," said Frenhofer. " Standing before it 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 247 

you would think that it was a living woman lying on the vel- 
vet couch beneath the shadow of the curtains. Perfumes are 
burning on a golden tripod by her side. You would be 
tempted to lay your hand upon the tassel of the cord that 
holds back the curtains ; it would seem to you that you saw 
her breast rise and fall as she breathed ; that you beheld the 
living Catherine Lescault, the beautiful courtesan whom men 
called La Belle Noiseuse. And yet if I could but be sure 



" Then go to Asia," returned Porbus, noticing a certain in- 
decision in Frenhofer's face. And with that Porbus made a 
few steps towards the door. 

By that time Gillette and Nicolas Poussin had reached Fren- 
hofer's house. The girl drew her arm away from her lover's 
as she stood on the threshold, and shrank back as if some 
presentiment flashed through her mind. 

"Oh! what have I come to do here?" she asked of her 
lover in low vibrating tones, with her eyes fixed on his. 

"Gillette, I have left you to decide; I am ready to obey 
you in everything. You are my conscience and my glory. 
Go home again ; I shall be happier, perhaps, if you do not 



"Am I my own when you speak to me like that? No, no j 
I am like a child Come," she added, seemingly with a vio- 
lent effort ; " if our love dies, if I plant a long regret in my 
heart, your fame will be the reward of my obedience to your 
wishes, will it not ? Let us go in. I shall still live on as a 
memory on your palette ; that shall be life for me afterwards." 

The door opened, and the two lovers encountered Porbus, 
who was surprised by the beauty of Gillette, whose eyes were 
full of tears. He hurried her, trembling from head to foot, 
into the presence of the old painter. 

" Here ! " he cried, " is she not worth all the masterpieces 
in the world ! " 

Frenhofer trembkd. There stood Gillette in the artless and 



248 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

childlike attitude of some timid and innocent Giorgione, car- 
ried off by brigands, and confronted with a slave merchant. 
A shame-fast red flushed her face, her eyes drooped, her hands 
hung by her side, her strength seemed to have failed her, her 
tears protested against this outrage. Poussin cursed himself 
in despair that he should have brought his fair treasure from 
its hiding-place. The lover overcame the artist, and countless 
doubts assailed Poussin's heart when he saw youth dawn in the 
old man's eyes, as, like a painter, he discerned every line of 
the form hidden beneath the young girl's vesture. Then the 
lover's savage jealousy awoke. 

"Gillette ! " he cried, "let us go." 

The girl turned joyously at the cry and the tone in which 
it was uttered, raised her eyes to his, looked at him, and fled 
to his arms. 

"Ah! then you love me," she cried; " you love me ! " 
and she burst into tears. 

She had spirit enough to suffer in silence, but she had no 
strength to hide her joy. 

" Oh ! leave her with me for one moment," said the old 

painter, "and you shall compare her with my Catherine 

yes I consent." 

Frenhofer's words likewise came from him like a lover's 
cry. His vanity seemed to be engaged for his semblance of 
womanhood ; he anticipated the triumph of the beauty of his 
own creation over the beauty of the living girl. 

" Do not give him time to change his mind ! " cried Por- 
bus, striking Poussin on the shoulder. " The flower of love 
soon fades, but the flower of art is immortal." 

"Then am I only a woman now for him? " said Gillette. 
She was watching Poussin and Porbus closely. 

She raised her head proudly ; she glanced at Frenhofer, 
and her eyes flashed ; then as she saw how her lover had 
fallen again to gazing at the portrait which he had taken at 
first for a Giorgione 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 249 

" Ah ! " she cried ; " let us go up to the studio. He never 
gave me such a look." 

The sound of her voice recalled Poussin from his dreams. 

"Old man," he said, "do you see this blade? I will 
plunge it into your heart at the first cry from this young girl ; 
I will set fire to your house, and no one shall leave it alive. 
Do you understand ? " 

Nicolas Poussin scowled, every word was a menace. Gil- 
lette took comfort from the young painter's bearing, and yet 
more from that gesture, and almost forgave him for sacrificing 
her to his art and his glorious future. 

Porbus and Poussin stood at the door of the studio and 
looked at each other in silence. At first the painter of the 
Saint Mary of Egypt hazarded some exclamations: "Ah! 
she has taken off her clothes ; he told her to come into the 
light he is comparing the two ! " but the sight of the deep 
distress in Poussin's face suddenly silenced him ; and though 
old painters no longer feel these scruples, so petty in the 
presence of art, he admired them because they were so natural 
and gracious in the lover. The young man kept his hand on 
the hilt of his dagger, and his ear was almost glued to the 
door. The two men standing in the shadow might have been 
conspirators waiting for the hour when they might strike down 
a tyrant. 

" Come in, come in," cried the old man. He was radiant 
with delight. " My work is perfect. I can show her now 
with pride. Never shall painter, brushes, colors, light and 
canvas produce a rival for Catherine Lescaull, the beautiful 
courtesan ! " 

Porbus and Poussin, burning with eager curiosity, hurried 
into a vast studio. Everything was in disorder and covered 
with dust, but they saw a few pictures here and there upon 
the wall. They stopped first of all in admiration before the 
life-sized figure of a woman partially draped. 

" Oh ! never mind that," said Frenhofer ; that is a rough 



250 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

daub that I made, a study, a pose, it is nothing. These are 
ray failures," he went on, indicating the enchanting com- 
positions upon the walls of the studio. 

This scorn for such works of art struck Porbus and Poussin 
dumb with amazement. They looked round for the picture 
of which he had spoken, and could not discover it. 

" Look here ! " said the old man. His hair was disordered, 
his face aglow with a more than human exaltation, his eyes 
glittered, he breathed hard like a young lover frenzied by 
love. 

" Aha ! " he cried, " you did not expect to see such perfec- 
tion ! You are looking for a picture, and you see a woman 
before you. There is such depth in that canvas, the atmos- 
phere is so true that you cannot distinguish it from the air 
that surrounds us. Where is art? Art has vanished, it is 
invisible ! It is the form of a living girl that you see before 
you. Have I not caught the very hues of life, the spirit of 
the living line that defines the figure ? Is there not the effect 
produced there like that which all natural objects present in 
the atmosphere about them, or fishes in the water ? Do you 
see how the figure stands out against the background ? Does 
it not seem to you that you could pass your hand along the 
back ? But then for seven years I studied and watched how 
the daylight blends with the objects on which it falls. And 
the hair, the light pours over it like a flood, does it not ? 
Ah ! she breathed, I am sure that she breathed ! Her breast 
ah, see ! Who would not fall on his knees before her ? 
Her pulses throb. She will rise to her feet. Wait!" con- 
tinued the old man, in the height of his enthusiasm. 

" Do you see anything?" Poussin asked of Porbus. 

"No; do you?" 

" I see nothing." 

The two painters left the old man to his ecstasy, and tried 
to ascertain whether the light that fell full upon the canvas 
had in some way neutralized all the effect for them. They 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 251 

moved to the right and left of the picture ; then they came in 
front, bending down and standing upright by turns. 

"Yes, yes, it is really canvas," said Frenhofer, who mis- 
took the nature of this minute investigation. 

" Look ! the canvas is on a stretcher, here is the easel ; 
indeed, here are my colors, my brushes," and he took up a 
brush and held it out to them, all unsuspicious of their 
thought. 

"The old lansquenet is laughing at us," said Poussin, coming 
once more towards the supposed picture. " I can see nothing 
there but confused masses of color and a multitude of fantas- 
tical lines that go to make a dead wall of paint." 

" We are mistaken, look! " said Porbus. 

In a corner of the canvas as they came nearer they dis- 
tinguished a bare foot emerging from the chaos of color, half- 
tints and vague shadows that made up a dim formless 
fog. Its living delicate beauty held them spellbound. This 
fragment that had escaped an incomprehensible, slow, and 
gradual destruction seemed to them like the Parian marble 
torso of some Venus emerging from the ashes of a ruined 
town. 

"There is a woman beneath," exclaimed Porbus, calling 
Poussin's attention to the coats of paint with which the old 
artist had overlaid and concealed his work in the quest of 
perfection. 

Both artists turned involuntarily to Frenhofer. They began 
to have some understanding, vague though it was, of the 
ecstasy in which he lived. 

" He believes it in all good faith," said Porbus. 

"Yes, my friend," said the old man, rousing himself from 
his dreams, " it needs faith, faith in art, and you must live for 
long with your work to produce such a creation. What toil 
some of those shadows have cost me. Look ! there is a faint 
shadow there upon the cheek beneath the eyes if you saw that 
on a human face, it would seem to you that you could never 



252 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE, 

render it with paint. Do you think that that effect has not 
cost unheard-of toil ? 

" But not only so, dear Porbus. Look closely at my work, 
and you will understand more clearly what I was saying as to 
methods of modeling and outline. Look at the high-lights on 
the bosom, and see how by touch on touch, thickly laid on, I 
have raised the surface so that it catches the light itself and 
blends it with the lustrous whiteness of the high-lights, and 
how by an opposite process, by flattening the surface of the 
paint, and leaving no trace of the passage of the brush, I 
have succeeded in softening the contours of my figure and en- 
veloping them in half-tints until the very idea of drawing, of 
the means by which the effect is produced, fades away, and 
the picture has the roundness and relief of nature. Come 
closer. You will see the manner of working better; at a little 
distance it cannot be seen. There ! Just there, it is, I think, 
very plainly to be seen," and with the tip of his brush he 
pointed out a patch of transparent color to the two painters. 

Porbus, laying a hand on the old artist's shoulder, turned to 
Poussin with a " Do you know that in him we see a very great 
painter?" 

"He is even more of a poet than a painter," Poussin an- 
swered gravely. 

"There," Porbus continued, as he touched the canvas, 
"lies the utmost limit of our art on earth." 

"Beyond that point it loses itself in the skies," said 
Poussin. 

" What joys lie there on that piece of canvas ! " exclaimed 
Porbus. 

The old man, deep in his own musings, smiled at the woman 
he alone beheld, and did not hear. 

"But sooner or later he will find out that there is nothing 
there ! " cried Poussin. 

"Nothing on my canvas ! " said Frenhofer, looking in turn 
at either painter and at his picture. 



THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 253 

"What have you done?" muttered Porbus, turning to 
Poussin. 

The old man clutched the young painter's arm and said, 
" Do you see nothing ? clodpate ? Huguenot ! varlet ! cullion ! 
What brought you here into my studio ? My good Porbus," 
he went on, as he turned to the painter, " are you also making 
a fool of me ? Answer ! I am your friend. Tell me, have I 
ruined my picture after all ? " 

Porbus hesitated and said nothing, but there was such intol- 
erable anxiety in the old man's white face that he pointed to 
the easel. 

"Look!" he said. 

Frenhofer looked for a moment at his picture, and staggered 
back. 

" Nothing ! nothing ! After ten years of work " 

He sat down and wept. 

"So I am a dotard, a madman, I have neither talent nor 
power ! I am only a rich man, who works for his own 
pleasure, and makes no progress. I have done nothing 
after all!" 

He looked through his tears at his picture. Suddenly he 
rose and stood proudly before the two painters. 

"By the body and blood of Christ," he cried with flashing 
eyes, "you are jealous ! You would have me think that my 
picture is a failure because you want to steal her from me ! 
Ah! I see her, I see her," he cried, "she is marvelously 
beautiful " 

At that moment Poussin heard the sound of weeping ; Gil- 
lette was crouching forgotten in a corner. All at once the 
painter again became the lover. "What is it, my angel?" he 
asked her. 

" Kill me ! " she sobbed. " I must be a vile thing if I love 
you still, for I despise you. I admire you, and I loathe you ! 
I love you, and I feel that I hate you even now." 

While Gillette's words sounded in Poussin's ears, Frenhofer 



254 THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE. 

drew a green serge covering over his Catherine with the sober 
deliberation of a jeweler who locks his drawers when he sus- 
pects his visitors to be expert thieves. He gave the two 
painters a profoundly astute glance that expressed to the full 
his suspicions and his contempt for them, saw them out of his 
studio with impetuous haste and in silence, until from the 
threshold of his house he bade them "Good-bye, my young 
friends!" 

That farewell struck a chill of dread into the two painters. 
Porbus, in anxiety, went again on the morrow to see Fren- 
hofer, and learned that he had died in the night after burning 
his canvases. 

PARIS, February, 1832. 




CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

{Christ en Flanders.} 

To Marcelline Desbordes-Valmore, a daughter of 
Flanders, of whom these modern days may well be 
proud, I dedicate this quaint legend of old Flanders. 

DE BALZAC. 

AT a dimly remote period in the history of Brabant, com- 
munication between the Island of Cadzand and the Flemish 
coast was kept up by a boat which carried passengers from one 
shore to the other. Middelburg, the chief town in the island, 
destined to become so famous in the annals of Protestantism, 
at that time only numbered some two or three hundred 
hearths ; and the prosperous town of Ostend was an obscure 
haven, a straggling village where pirates dwelt in security 
among the fishermen and the few poor merchants who lived 
in the place. 

But though the town of Ostend consisted altogether of 
some score of houses and three hundred cottages, huts or 
hovels built of the driftwood of wrecked vessels, it neverthe- 
less rejoiced in the possession of a governor, a garrison, a 
forked gibbet, a convent, and a burgomaster ; in short, in all 
the institutions of an advanced civilization. 

Who reigned over Brabant and Flanders in those days? 
On this point tradition is mute. Let us confess at once that 
this tale savours strongly of the marvelous, the mysterious, 
and the vague ; elements which Flemish narrators have infused 
into a story retailed so often to gatherings of workers on 
winter evenings, that the versions vary widely in poetic vnerit 
and incongruity of detail. It has been told by every genera- 

(255) 



256 CHRIST IN FLANDERS, 

tion, handed down by grandames at the fireside, narrated 
night and day, and the version has changed its complexion 
somewhat in every age. Like some great building that has 
suffered many modifications of successive generations of 
architects, some sombre weather-beaten pile, the delight of a 
poet, the story would drive the commentator and the indus- 
trious winnower of words, facts, and dates to despair. The 
narrator believes in it, as all superstitious minds in Flanders 
likewise believe ; and is not a whit wiser nor more credulous 
than his audience. But as it would be impossible to make a 
harmony of all the different renderings, here are the outlines 
of the story ; stripped, it may be, of its picturesque quaint- 
ness, but with all its bold disregard of historical truth, and 
its moral teaching approved by religion a myth, the blossom 
of imaginative fancy ; an allegory that the wise may interpret 
to suit themselves. To each his own pasturage, and the task 
of separating the tares from the wheat. 

The boat that served to carry passengers from the Island of 
Cadzand to Ostend was upon the point of departure ; but be- 
fore the skipper loosed the chain that secured the shallop to 
the little jetty, where people embarked, he blew a horn several 
times, to warn late-comers, this being his last journey that 
day. Night was falling. It was scarcely possible to see the 
coast of Flanders by the dying fires of the sunset, or to make 
out upon the hither shore any forms of belated passengers 
hurrying along the wall of the dykes that surrounded the 
open country, or among the tall reeds of the marshes. The 
boat was full. 

" What are you waiting for? Let us put off ! " they cried. 

Just at that moment a man appeared a few paces from the 
jetty, to the surprise of the skipper, who had heard no sound 
of footsteps. The traveler seemed to have sprung up from 
the earth, like a peasant who had laid himself down on the 
ground to wait till the boat should start, and had slept till the 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 257 

sound of the horn awakened him. Was he a thief? or some 
one belonging to the custom-house or the police? 

As soon as the man appeared on the jetty to which the boat 
was moored, seven persons who were standing in the stern of 
the shallop hastened to sit down on the benches, so as to leave 
no room for the new-comer. It was the swift and instinctive 
working of the aristocratic spirit, an impulse of exclusiveness 
that comes from the rich man's heart. Four of the seven 
personages belonged to the most aristocratic families in Flan- 
ders. First among them was a young knight with two beauti- 
ful greyhounds ; his long hair flowed from beneath a jeweled 
cap ; he clanked his gilded spurs, curled the ends of his mus- 
tache from time to time with a swaggering grace, and looked 
round disdainfully on the rest of the crew. A high-born dam- 
sel, with a falcon on her wrist, only spoke with her mother or 
with a churchman of high rank, who was evidently a relation. 
All these persons made a great deal of noise, and talked 
among themselves as though there were no one else in the 
boat ; yet close beside them sat a man of great importance in 
the district, a stout burgher of Bruges, wrapped about with a 
vast cloak. His servant, armed to the teeth, had set down a 
couple of bags filled with gold at his side. Next to the 
burgher came a man of learning, a doctor of the University of 
Louvain, who was traveling with his clerk. This little group 
of folk, who looked contemptuously at each other, was separ- 
ated from the passengers in the forward part of the boat by the 
bench of rowers. 

The belated traveler glanced about him as he stepped on 
board, saw that there was no room for him in the stern, and 
went to the bow in quest of a seat. They were all poor 
people there. At first sight of the bareheaded man in the 
brown camlet coat and trunk-hose, and plain stiff linen collar, 
they noticed that he wore no ornaments, carried no cap nor 
bonnet in his hand, and had neither sword nor purse at his 
girdle, and one and all took him for a burgomaster sure of his 
17 



258 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

authority, a worthy and kindly burgomaster like so 'many a 
Fleming of old times, whose homely features and characters 
have been immortalized by Flemish painters. The poorer 
passengers, therefore, received him with demonstrations of 
respect that provoked scornful tittering at the other end of the 
boat. An old soldier, inured to toil and hardship, gave up 
his place on the bench to the new-comer, and seated himself 
on the edge of the vessel, keeping his balance by planting his 
feet against one of those transverse beams, like the backbone 
of a fish, that hold the planks of a boat together. A young 
mother, who bore her baby in her arms, and seemed to belong 
to the working class in Ostend, moved aside to make room for 
the stranger. There was neither servility nor scorn in her 
manner of doing this; it was a simple sign of the good-will by 
which the poor, who know by long experience the value of a 
service and the warmth that fellowship brings, give expression 
to the openheartedness and the natural impulses of their souls; 
so artlessly do they reveal their good qualities and their de- 
fects. The stranger thanked her by a gesture full of gracious 
dignity, and took his place between the young mother and the 
old soldier. Immediately behind him sat a peasant and his 
son, a boy ten years of age. A beggar woman, old, wrinkled 
and clad in rags, was crouching, with her almost empty wal- 
let, on a great coil of rope that lay in the prow. One of the 
rowers, an old sailor, who had known her in the days of her 
beauty and prosperity, had let her come in " for the love of 
God," in the beautiful phrase that the common people use. 

"Thank you kindly, Thomas," the old woman had said. 
" I will say two Paters and two Avcs for you in my prayers 
to-night." 

The skipper blew his horn for the last time, looked along 
the silent shore, flung off the chain, ran along the side of the 
boat, and took up his position at the helm. He looked at the 
sky, and as soon as they were out in the open sea, he shouted 
to the men : " Pull away, pull with all your might ! The sea 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 259 

is smiling at a squall, the witch ! I can feel the swell by the 
way the rudder works, and the storm in my wounds." 

The nautical phrases, unintelligible to ears unused to the 
sound of the sea, seemed to put fresh energy into the oars ; 
they kept time together, the rhythm, of the movement was 
still even and steady, but quite unlike the previous manner of 
rowing ; it was as if a cantering horse had broken into a gallop. 
The gay company seated in the stern amused themselves by 
watching the brawny arms, the tanned faces, and sparkling 
eyes of the rowers, the play of the tense muscles, the physical 
and mental forces that were being exerted to bring them for 
a trifling toll across the channel. So far from pitying the 
rowers' distress, they pointed out the men's faces to each other, 
and laughed at the grotesque expressions on the faces of the 
crew who were straining every muscle ; but in the fore part 
of the boat the soldier, the peasant, and the old beggar woman 
watched the sailors with the sympathy naturally felt by toilers 
who live by the sweat of their brow and know the rough 
struggle, the strenuous excitement of effort. These folk, more- 
over, whose lives were spent in the open air, had all seen the 
warnings of danger in the sky, and their faces were grave. 
The young mother rocked her child, singing an old hymn of 
the Church for a lullaby. 

"If we ever get there at all," the soldier remarked to the 
peasant," it will be because the Almighty is bent on keeping 
us alive." 

"Ah! He is the Master," said the old woman, "but I 
think it will be His good pleasure to take us to Himself. Just 

look at that light down there " and she nodded her head 

towards the sunset as she spoke. 

Streaks of fiery red glared from behind the masses of 
crimson-flushed brown cloud that seemed about to unloose a 
furious gale. There was a smothered murmur of the sea, a 
moaning sound that seemed to come from the depths, a low 
warning growl, such as a dog gives when he only means mis- 



260 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

chief as yet. After all, Ostend was not far away. Perhaps 
painting, like poetry, could not prolong the existence of the 
picture presented by sea and sky at that moment beyond the 
time of its actual duration. Art demands vehement contrasts, 
wherefore artists usually seek out nature's most striking effects, 
doubtless because they despair of rendering the great and 
glorious charm of her daily moods ; yet the human soul is 
often stirred as deeply by her calm as by her emotion, and by 
silence as by storm. 

For a moment no one spoke on board the boat. Every one 
watched that sea and sky, either with some presentiment of 
danger, or because they felt the influence of the religious 
melancholy that takes possession of nearly all of us at the 
close of day, the hour of prayer, when all nature is hushed 
save for the voices of the bells. The sea gleamed pale and 
wan, but its hues changed, and the surface took all the colors of 
steel. The sky was almost overspread with livid gray, but down 
in the west there were long narrow bars like streaks of blood; 
while lines of bright light in the eastern sky, sharp and clean 
as if drawn by the tip of a brush, were separated by folds of 
cloud, like the wrinkles on an old man's brow. The whole scene 
made a background of ashen grays and half-tints, in strong 
contrast to the bale-fires of the sunset. If written language 
might borrow of spoken language some of the bold figures of 
speech invented by the people, it might be said with the 
soldier that " the weather had been routed," or, as the peasant 
would say, " the sky glowered like an executioner." Suddenly 
a wind arose from the quarter of the sunset, and the skipper, 
who never took his eyes off the sea, saw the swell on the hori- 
zon line, and cried 

" Stop rowing ! " 

The sailors stopped immediately, and let their oars lie on 
the water. 

" The skipper is right," said Thomas coolly. A great wave 
caught up the boat, carried it high on its crest, only to plunge 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 261 

it, as it were, into the trough of the sea that seemed to yawn 
for them. At this mighty upheaval, this sudden outbreak of 
the wrath of the sea, the company in the stern turned pale, 
and sent up a terrible cry. 

"We are lost ! " 

"Oh, not yet! " said the skipper calmly. 

As he spoke, the clouds immediately above their heads were 
torn asunder by the vehemence of the wind. The gray mass 
was rent and scattered east and west with ominous speed, a 
dim uncertain light from the rift in the sky fell full upon the 
boat, and the travelers beheld each other's faces. All of them, 
the noble and the wealthy, the sailors and the poor passengers 
alike, were amazed for a moment by the appearance of the last 
comer. His golden hair, parted upon his calm, serene fore- 
head, fell in thick curls about his shoulders ; and his face, 
sublime in its sweetness and radiant with divine love, stood out 
against the surrounding gloom. He had no contempt for 
death ; he knew that he should not die. But if at the first the 
company in the stern forgot for a moment the implacable fury 
of the storm that threatened their lives, selfishness and their 
habits of life soon prevailed again. 

" How lucky that stupid burgomaster is not to see the risks 
we are all running ! He is just like a dog, he will die with- 
out a struggle," said the doctor. 

He had scarcely pronounced this highly judicious dictum 
when the storm unloosed all its legions. The wind blew from 
every quarter of the heavens, the boat spun round like a top, 
and the sea broke in. 

" Oh ! my poor child ! My poor child ! Who will save 

my baby ? " the mother cried in a heartrending voice. 

" You yourself will save it," the stranger said. 

The thrilling tones of that voice went to the young mother's 
heart and brought hope with them ; she heard the gracious 
words through all the whistling of the wind and the shrieks of 
the passengers. 



262 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

" Holy Virgin of Good Help, who art at Antwerp, I 
promise thee a thousand pounds of wax and a statue, if thou 
wilt rescue me from this! " cried the burgher, kneeling upon 
his bags of gold. 

" The Virgin is no more at Antwerp than she is here," was 
the doctor's comment on this appeal. 

"She is in heaven," said a voice that seemed to come from 
the sea. 

"Who said that?" 

" 'Tis the devil ! " exclaimed the servant. " He is scoffing 
at the Virgin of Antwerp." 

" Let us have no more of your Holy Virgin at present," 
the skipper cried to the passengers. " Put your hands to the 
scoops and bale the water out of the boat. And the rest 
of you," he went on, addressing the sailors, " pull with all 
your might ! Now is the time ; in the name of the devil who 
is leaving you in this world, be your own Providence ! Every 
one knows that the channel is fearfully dangerous ; I have 
been to and fro across it these thirty years. Am I facing a 
storm for the first time to-night?" 

He stood at the helm, and looked, as before, at his boat and 
at the sea and sky in turn. 

"The skipper always laughs at everything," muttered 
Thomas. 

" Will God leave us to perish along with those wretched 
creatures ? ' ' asked the haughty damsel of the handsome 
cavalier. 

"No, no, noble maiden. Listen!" and he caught her 
by the waist and said in her ear, " I can swim ; say nothing 
about it ! I will hold you by your fair hair and bring you 
safely to the shore; but I can only save you." 

The girl looked at her aged mother. The lady was on her 
knees entreating absolution of the bishop, who did not heed 
her. In the beautiful eyes the knight read a vague feeling of 
filial piety, and spoke in a smothered voice : 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 263 

" Submit yourself to the will of God. If it is His pleasure 
to take your mother to Himself, it will doubtless be for her 
happiness in the other world," he added, and his voice 
dropped still lower. " And for ours in this," he thought 
within himself. 

The Dame of Rupelmonde was lady of seven fiefs beside 
the barony of Gavres. 

The girl felt the longing for life in her heart, and for love 
that spoke through the handsome adventurer, a young mis- 
creant who haunted churches in search of a prize, an heiress 
to marry or ready money. The bishop bestowed his benison 
on the waves, and bade them be calm ; it was all that he could 
do. He thought of his concubine, and of the delicate feast 
with which she would welcome him ; perhaps at that very mo- 
ment she was bathing, perfuming herself, robing herself in 
velvet, fastening her necklace and her jeweled clasps, and the 
perverse bishop so far from thinking of the power of Holy 
Church, of his duty to comfort Christians and exhort them to 
trust in God, that worthy's regrets and lover's sighs mingled 
with the holy words of the breviary. By the dim light that 
shone on the pale faces of the company, it was possible to see 
their differing expressions as the boat was lifted high in air by 
a wave, to be cast back into the dark depths ; the shallop 
quivered like a fragile leaf, the plaything of the north wind 
in the autumn; the hull creaked, it seemed ready to go to 
pieces. Fearful shrieks went up, followed by an awful silence. 

There was a strange difference between the behavior of the 
folk in the bow and that of the rich or great people at the 
other end of the boat. The young mother clasped her infant 
tightly to her breast every time that a great wave threatened 
to engulf the fragile vessel ; but she clung to the hope that 
the stranger's words had set in her heart. Each time that her 
eyes turned to his face she drew fresh faith at the sight, the 
strong faith of a helpless woman, a mother's faith. She lived 
by that divine promise, the loving words from his lips ; the 



264 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

simple creature waited trustingly for them to be fulfilled, and 
scarcely feared the danger any longer. 

The soldier, holding fast to the vessel's side, never took his 
eyes off the strange visitor. He copied on his own rough and 
swarthy features the imperturbability of the other's face, ap- 
plying to this task the whole strength of a will and intelli- 
gence but little corrupted in the course of a life of mechanical 
and passive obedience. So emulous was he of a calm and 
tranquil courage greater than his own, that at last, perhaps 
unconsciously, something of that mysterious nature passed into 
his own soul. His admiration became an instinctive zeal for 
this man, a boundless love for and belief in him, such a 
love as soldiers feel for their leader when he has the power of 
swaying other men, when the halo of victories surrounds him, 
and the magical fascination of genius is felt in all that he 
does. The poor outcast was murmuring to herself 

" Ah ! miserable wretch that I am ! Have I not suffered 
enough to expiate the sins of my youth? Ah ! wretched wo- 
man, why did you lead the gay life of a frivolous Frenchwoman ? 
why did you devour the goods of God with churchmen, the 
substance of the poor with extortioners and fleecers of the 
poor ? Oh ! I have sinned indeed ! Oh, my God ! my God ! 
let me finish my time in hell here in this world of misery." 
And again she cried, " Holy Virgin, Mother of God, have 
pity upon me !" 

"Be comforted, mother. God is not a Lombard usurer. I 
may have killed people good and bad at random in my time, 
but I am not afraid of the resurrection." 

" Ah ! Master Lancepesade, how happy those fair ladies 
are, to be so near to a bishop, a holy man ! They will get 
absolution for their sins," said the old woman. "Oh! if I 
could only hear a priest say to me, ' Thy sins are forgiven ! ' 
I should'believe it then." 

The stranger turned towards her, and the goodness in his 
face made her tremble. 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 265 

" Have faith," he said, "and you will be saved." 

"May God reward you, good sir," she answered. "If 
what you say is true, I will go on pilgrimage barefooted 
to Our Lady of Loretto to pray to her for you and for 
me." 

The two peasants, father and son, were silent, patient, and 
submissive to the will of God, like folk whose wont it is to 
fall in instinctively with the ways of nature like cattle. At 
the one end of the boat stood riches, pride, learning, de- 
bauchery, and crime human society, such as art and thought 
and education and worldly interests and laws have made it ; 
and at this end there was terror and wailing, innumerable 
different impulses all repressed by hideous doubts at this 
end, and at this only, the agony of fear. 

Above all these human lives stood a strong man, the skip- 
per ; no doubts assailed him, the chief, the king, the fatalist 
among them. He was trusting in himself rather than in 
Providence, crying, "Baleaway!" instead of " Holy Virgin," 
defying the storm, in fact, and struggling with the sea like a 
wrestler. 

But the helpless poor at the other end of the wherry ! The 
mother rocking on her bosom the little one who smiled at 
the storm ; the woman once so frivolous and gay, and now 
tormented with bitter remorse; the old soldier covered with 
scars, a mutilated life the sole reward of his unflagging loyalty 
and faithfulness. This veteran could scarcely count on the 
morsel of bread soaked in tears to keep the life in him, yet 
he was always ready to laugh, and went his way merrily, 
happy when he could drown his glory in the depths of a pot 
of beer, or could tell tales of the wars to the children who 
admired him, leaving his future with a light heart in the 
hands of God. Lastly, there were the two peasants, used to 
hardships and toil, labor incarnate, the labor by which the 
world lives. These simple folk were indifferent to thought 
and its treasures, ready to sink them all in a belief; and their 



266 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

faith was but so much the more vigorous because they had 
never disputed about it nor analyzed it. Such a nature is a 
virgin soil, conscience has not been tampered with, feeling is 
deep and strong; repentance, trouble, love, and work have 
developed, purified, concentrated, and increased their force 
of will a hundred times, the will the one thing in man that 
resembles what learned doctors call the soul. 

The boat, guided by the wellnigh miraculous skill of the 
steersman, came almost within sight of Ostend, when, not 
fifty paces from the shore, she was suddenly struck by a heavy 
sea and capsized. The stranger with the light about his head 
spoke to this little world of drowning creatures 

"Those who have faith shall be saved; let them follow 
me ! '*' 

He stood upright, and walked with a firm step upon the 
waves. The young mother at once took her child in her 
arms, and followed at his side across the sea. The soldier, too, 
sprang up, saying in his homely fashion, " Ah ! nom (fun 
pipe! I would follow you to the devil; " and without seem- 
ing astonished by it, he walked on the water. The old worn- 
out sinner, believing in the omnipotence of God, also followed 
the stranger. 

The two peasants said to each other, " If they are walking 
on the sea, why should we not do as they do? " and they also 
arose and hastened after the others. Thomas tried to follow, 
but his faith tottered ; he sank in the sea more than once, 
and arose again, but the third time he also walked on the sea. 
The bold steersman clung like a remora to the wreck of his 
boat. The miser had had faith, and had risen to go, but he 
tried to take his gold with him, and it was his gold that 
dragged him down to the bottom. The learned man had 
scoffed at the charlatan and at the fools who listened to him, 
and, when he heard the mysterious stranger propose to the 
passengers that they should walk on the waves, he began to 
laugh, and the ocean swallowed him. The girl was dragged 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 267 

down into the depths by her lover. The bishop and the 
older lady went to the bottom, heavily laden with sins, it may 
be, but still more heavily laden with incredulity and confi- 
dence in idols, weighted down by devotion, into which alms- 
deeds and true religion entered but little. 

The faithful flock, who walked with a firm step high and dry 
above the surge, heard all about them the dreadful whistling 
of the blast ; great billows broke across their path, but an 
irresistible force cleft a way for them through the sea. These 
believing ones saw through the spray a dim speck of light 
flickering in the window of a fisherman's hut on the shore, 
and each one, as he pushed on bravely towards the light, 
seemed to hear the voice of his fellow crying, " Courage ! " 
through all the roaring of the surf; yet no one had spoken a 
word so absorbed was each by his own peril. In this way 
they reached the shore, and eventually found shelter in the 
fisherman's hut. 

When they were all seated near the fisherman's fire, they 
looked round in vain for their guide with the light about him. 
The sea washed up the steersman at the base of the cliff on 
which the cottage stood ; he was clinging with might and 
main to the plank as only a sailor can cling when death stares 
him in the face ; the stranger guide went down and rescued the 
almost exhausted seaman ; then he said, as he held out a 
succoring hand above the man's head - 

"Good, for this once; but do not try it again; the ex- 
ample would be too bad." 

He took the skipper on his shoulders, and carried him to the 
fisherman's door, knocked for admittance for the exhausted 
man ; then, when the door of the humble refuge opened, the 
Saviour disappeared. 

The Convent of Mercy was built for sailors on this spot, 
where for a long time afterwards (so it was said) the foot- 
prints of Jesus Christ could be seen in the sand ; but in 1 793, 
at the time of the French invasion, the monks carried away 



268 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

this precious relic, that bore witness to the Saviour's last visit 
to earth. 

There at the convent I found myself shortly after the 
Revolution of 1830. I was weary of life. If you had asked 
me the reason of my despair, I should have found it almost 
impossible to give it, so languid had grown the soul that was 
melted within me. The west wind had slackened the springs 
of my intelligence. A cold, gray light poured down from the 
heavens, and the murky clouds that passed overhead gave a 
boding look to the land ; all these things, together with the 
immensity of the sea, said to me, "Die to-day or die to- 
morrow, still must we not die? " And then I wandered on, 
musing on the doubtful future, on my blighted hopes. Gnawed 
by these gloomy thoughts, I turned mechanically into the 
convent church, with the gray towers that loomed like ghosts 
through the sea mists. I looked round with no kindling of 
the imagination at the forest of columns, at the slender arches 
set aloft upon the leafy capitals, a delicate labyrinth of sculp- 
ture. I walked with careless eyes along the side aisles that 
opened out before me like vast portals, ever turning upon their 
hinges. It was scarcely possible to see, by the dim light of 
the autumn day, the sculptured grainings of the roof, the 
delicate and clean-cut lines of the mouldings of the graceful 
pointed arches. The organ pipes were mute. There was no 
sound save the noise of my own footsteps to awaken the 
mournful echoes lurking in the dark chapels. I sat down at 
the base of one of the four pillars that supported the tower, 
near the choir. Thence I could see the whole of the building. 
I gazed, and no ideas connected with it arose in my mind. I 
saw without seeing the mighty maze of pillars, the great rose 
windows that hung like a network suspended as by a miracle 
in air above the vast doorways. I saw the doors at the end 
of the side aisles, the aerial galleries, the stained glass windows 
framed in archways, divided by slender columns, fretted into 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 269 

flower forms and trefoil by fine filigree work of carved stone. 
A dome of glass at the end of the choir sparkled as if it had 
been built of precious stones set cunningly. In contrast to 
the roof with its alternating spaces of whiteness and color, the 
two aisles lay to right and left in shadow so deep that the faint 
gray outlines of their hundred shafts were scarcely visible in 
the gloom. I gazed at the marvelous arcades, the scroll-work, 
the garlands, the curving lines, and arabesques interwoven 
and interlaced, and strangely lighted, until by sheer dint of 
gazing my perception became confused, and I stood upon the 
borderland between illusion and reality, taken in the snare set 
for the eyes, and almost light-headed by reason of the multi- 
tudinous changes of the shapes about me. 

Imperceptibly a mist gathered about the carven stonework, 
and I only beheld it through a haze of fine golden dust, like 
the motes that hover in the bars of sunlight slanting through 
the air of a chamber. Suddenly the stone lacework of the 
rose windows gleamed through this vapor that had made all 
forms so shadowy. Every moulding, the edges of every 
carving, the least detail of the sculpture were dipped in silver. 
The sunlight kindled fires in the stained windows, their rich 
colors sent out glowing sparks of light. The shafts began to 
tremble, the capitals were gently shaken. A light shudder as 
of delight ran through the building, the stones were loosened 
in their setting, the wall-spaces swayed with graceful caution. 
Here and there a ponderous pier moved as solemnly as a 
dowager when she condescends to complete a quadrille at the 
close of a ball. A few slender and graceful columns, their 
heads adorned with wreaths of trefoil, began to laugh and 
dance here and there. Some of the pointed arches dashed at 
the tall lancet windows, which, like ladies of the Middle 
Ages, wore the armorial bearings of their houses emblazoned 
on their golden robes. The dance of the mitred arcades 
with the slender windows became like a fray at a tourney. 

In another moment every stone in the church vibrated, 



270 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

without leaving its place ; for the organ-pipes spoke, and I 
heard divine music mingling with the songs of angels, an un- 
earthly harmony, accompanied by the deep notes of the bells, 
that boomed as the giant towers rocked and swayed on their 
square bases. This strange Sabbath seemed to me the most 
natural thing in the world ; and I, who had seen Charles X. 
hurled from his throne, was no longer amazed by anything. 
Nay, I myself was gently swaying with a see-saw movement 
that influenced my nerves pleasurably in a manner of which it 
is impossible to give any idea. Yet in the midst of this 
heated riot, the cathedral choir felt cold as if it were a winter 
day, and I became aware of a multitude of women, robed in 
white, silent, and impassive, sitting there. The sweet incense 
smoke that arose from the censers was grateful to my soul. 
The tall wax candles flickered. The lectern, gay as a chanter 
undone by the treachery of wine, was skipping about like a 
peal of Chinese bells. 

Then I knew that the whole cathedral was whirling round 
so fast that everything appeared to be undisturbed. The 
colossal figure on the crucifix above the altar smiled upon me 
with a mingled malice and benevolence that frightened me ; 
I turned my eyes away, and marveled at the bluish vapor that 
slid across the pillars, lending to them an indescribable 
charm. Then some graceful women's forms began to stir on 
the friezes. The cherubs which upheld the heavy columns 
shook out their wings. I felt myself uplifted by some divine 
power that steeped me in infinite joy, in a sweet and languid 
rapture. I would have given my life, I think, to have pro- 
longed these phantasmagoria for a little, but suddenly a shrill 
voice clamored in my ears 

" Awake and follow me ! " 

A withered woman took my hand in hers ; its icy coldness 
crept through every nerve. The bones of her face showed 
plainly through the sallow, almost olive-tinted wrinkles of the 
skin. The shrunken, ice-cold, old woman wore a black robe, 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 271 

which she trailed in the dust, and at her throat there was 
something white, which I dared not examine. I could 
scarcely see her wan and colorless eyes, for they were fixed in 
a stare upon the heavens. She drew me after her along the 
aisles, leaving a trace of her presence in the ashes that she 
shook from her dress. Her bones rattled as she walked, like 
the bones of a skeleton ; and as we went I heard behind me 
the tinkling of a little bell, a thin, sharp sound that rang 
through my head like the notes of a harmonica. 

" Suffer ! " she cried, " suffer ! So it must be ! " 

We came out of the church ; we went through the dirtiest 
streets of the town, till we came at last to a dingy dwelling, 
and she bade me enter in. She dragged me with her, calling 
to me in a harsh, tuneless voice like a cracked bell 

" Defend me ! defend me ! " 

Together we went up a winding staircase. She knocked at 
a door in the darkness, and a mute, like some familiar of the 
Inquisition, opened to her. In another moment we stood in 
a room hung with ancient, ragged tapestry, amid piles of old 
linen, crumpled muslin, and gilded brass. 

"Behold the wealth that shall endure forever ! " said she. 

I shuddered with horror; for just then, by the light of a 
tall. torch and two altar candles, I saw distinctly that this 
woman was fresh from the graveyard. She had no hair. I 
turned to fly. She raised her fleshless arm and encircled me 
with a band of iron set with spikes, and as she raised it a cry 
went up all about us, the cry of millions of voices the shout- 
ing of the dead ! 

" It is my purpose to make thee happy forever," she said. 
"That art my son." 

We were sitting before the hearth, the ashes lay cold upon 
it ; the old shrunken woman grasped my hand so tightly in 
hers that I could not choose but stay. I looked fixedly at her, 
striving to read the story of her life from the things among 
which she was crouching. Had she indeed any life in her ? 



272 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

It was a mystery. Yet I saw plainly that once she must have 
been young and beautiful ; fair, with all the charm of simpli- 
city, perfect as some Greeek statue, with the brow of a vestal. 
"Ah! ah!" I cried, "nowjl know thee ! Miserable 
woman, why has thou prostituted thyself? In the age of thy 
passions, in the time of thy prosperity, the grace and purity 
of thy youth were forgotten. Forgetful of thy heroic devo- 
tion, thy pure life, thy abundant faith, thou didst resign thy 
primitive power and thy spiritual supremacy for fleshly power. 
Thy linen vestments, thy couch of moss, the cell in the rock, 
bright with rays of the Light Divine, were forsaken ; thou hast 
sparkled with diamonds, and shone with the glitter of luxury 
and pride. Then, grown bold and insolent, seizing and over- 
turning all things in thy course like a courtesan eager for 
pleasure in her days of splendor, thou has steeped thyself in 
blood like some queen stupefied by empery. Dost thou not 
remember to have been dull and heavy at times, and the sud- 
den marvelous lucidity of other moments ; as when art 
emerges from an orgy ? Oh ! poet, painter, and singer, lover 
of splendid ceremonies and protector of the arts, was thy 
friendship for art perchance a caprice, that so thou shouldst 
sleep beneath magnificent canopies ? Was there not a day 
when, in thy fantastic pride, though chastity and humility 
were prescribed to thee, thou hadst brought all things beneath 
thy feet, and set they foot on the necks of princes ; when 
earthly dominion, and wealth, and the mind of man bore thy 
yoke. Exulting in the abasement of humanity, joying to 
witness the uttermost lengths to which man's folly would go, 
thou hast bidden thy lovers walk on all fours, and required of 
them their lands and wealth, nay, even their wives if they 
were worth aught to thee. Thou hast devoured millions 
of men without a cause ; thou hast flung away lives like sand 
blown by the wind from west to east. Thou hast come down 
from the heights of thought to sit among the kings of men. 
Woman ! instead of comforting men, thou hast tormented 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 273 

and afflicted them ! Knowing that thou couldst ask and 
have, thou hast demanded blood ! A little flour surely 
should have contented thee, accustomed as thou hadst been to 
live on bread and to mingle water with thy wine. Unlike all 
others in all things, formerly thou wouldst bid thy lovers fast, 
and they obeyed. Why should thy fancies have led thee to re- 
quire things impossible? Why, like a courtesan spoiled by 
her lovers, hast thou doted on follies, and left those unde- 
ceived who sought to explain and justify all thy errors? 
Then came the days of thy later passions, terrible like the love 
of a woman of forty years, with a fierce cry thou hast sought 
to clasp the whole universe in one last embrace and thy 
universe recoiled from thee ! 

"Then old men succeeded to thy young lovers; decrepi- 
tude came to thy feet and made thee hideous. Yet, even then, 
men with the eagle power of vision said to thee in a glance, 
' Thou shalt perish ingloriously, because thou hast fallen 
away, because thou hast broken the vows of thy maidenhood. 
The angel with peace written on her forehead, who should 
have shed light and joy along her path, has been a Messalina, 
delighting in the circus, in debauchery, and abuse of power. 
The days of thy virginity cannot return ; henceforward thou 
shalt be subject to a master. Thy hour has come ; the hand 
of death is upon thee. Thy heirs believe that thou art rich ; 
they will kill thee and find nothing. Yet try at least to fling 
away this raiment no longer in fashion ; be once more as in 
the days of old ! Nay, thou art dead, and by thine own deed ! ' 

"Is not this thy story?" I concluded with, "Decrepit, 
toothless, shivering crone, now forgotten, going thy ways with- 
out so much as a glance from passers-by ! Why art thou still 
alive ? What doest thou in that beggar's garb, uncomely and 
desired of none ? Where are thy riches ? for what were they 
spent ? Where are thy treasures ? what great deeds hast thou 
done?" 

At this demand, the shriveled woman raised her bony form, 
18 



274 CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 

flung off her rags, and grew tall and radiant, smiling as she 
broke forth from the dark chrysalis sheath. Then, like a 
butterfly, this diaphanous creature emerged, fair and youthful, 
clothed in white linen, an Indian from creation issuing her 
palms. Her golden hair rippled over her shoulders, her eyes 
glowed, a bright mist clung about her, a ring of gold hovered 
above her head, she shook the flaming blade of a sword 
towards the spaces of heaven. 

" See and believe ! " she cried. 

And suddenly I saw, afar off, many thousands of cathe- 
drals like the one that I had just quitted ; but these were covered 
with pictures and with frescoes, and I heard them echo with 
entrancing music. Myriads of human creatures flocked to 
these great buildings, swarming about them like ants on an 
ant-heap. Some were eager to rescue books from oblivion or 
to copy manuscripts, others were helping the poor, but nearly 
all were studying. Up above this countless multitude rose 
giant statues that they had erected in their midst, and by the 
gleams of a strange light from some luminary as powerful as 
the sun I read the inscriptions on the bases of the statues 
Science, History, Literature. 

The light died out. Again I faced the young girl. Grad- 
ually she slipped into the dreary sheath, into the ragged sear- 
cloths, and became an aged woman again. Her familiar 
brought her a little dust, and she stirred it into the ashes of 
her chafing-dish, for the weather was cold and stormy; and 
then he lighted for her, whose palaces had been lit with thou- 
sands of wax-tapers, a little cresset, that she might see to read 
her prayers through the hours of night. 

" There is no faith left in the earth ! " she said. 

In such a perilous plight did I behold the fairest and the 
greatest, the truest and most life-giving of all powers. 

" Wake up, sir, the doors are just about to be shut," said a 
hoarse voice. I turned and beheld the beadle's ugly counte- 



CHRIST IN FLANDERS. 



275 



nance ; the man was shaking me by the arm, and the cathedral 
lay wrapped in shadows as a man is wrapped in his cloak. 

" Belief," I said to myself, " is life ! I have just witnessed 
the funeral of a monarchy, now we must defend the church. ' ' 

PARIS, February, 1831. 




MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

(Mclmoth reconcilie.} 

To Monsieur le General Baron de Pommereul, a 
token of the friendship between our fathers, which 
survives in their sons. 

DE BALZAC. 

THERE is a special variety of human nature obtained in the 
social kingdom by a process analogous to that of the gardener's 
craft in the vegetable kingdom, to wit, by the forcing-house 
a species of hybrid which can be raised neither from seed nor 
from slips. This product is known as the cashier, an anthro- 
pomorphous growth, watered by religious doctrine, trained up 
in the fear of the guillotine, pruned by vice, to flourish on a 
third floor with an estimable wife by his side and an uninter- 
esting family. The number of cashiers in Paris must always 
be a problem for the physiologist. Has any one as yet been 
able to state correctly the terms of the proportion sum wherein 
the cashier figures as the unknown x ? Where will you find 
the man who shall live with wealth, like a cat with a caged 
mouse ? This man, for further qualification, shall be capable 
of sitting boxed in behind an iron grating for seven or eight 
hours a day during seven-eighths of the year, perched upon a 
cane-seated chair in a space as narrow as a lieutenant's cabin 
on board a man-of-war. Such a man must be able to defy 
anchylosis of the knee and thigh joints ; he must have a soul 
above meanness, in order to live meanly ; must lose all relish 
for money by dint of handling it. Demand this peculiar 
specimen of any creed, educational system, school, or institu- 
tion you please, and select Paris, that city of fiery ordeals and 
branch establishment of hell, as the soil in which to plant the 
(276) 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 277 

said cashier. So be it. Creeds, schools, institutions, and 
moral systems, all human rules and regulations, great and 
small, will, one after another, present much the same face 
that an intimate friend turns upon you when you ask him to 
lend you a thousand francs. With a dolorous dropping of the 
jaw, they indicate the guillotine, much as your friend afore- 
said will furnish you with the address of the money-lender, 
pointing you to one of the hundred gates by which a man 
comes to the last refuge of the destitute. 

Yet nature has her freaks in the making of a man's mind ; 
she indulges herself and makes a few honest folk now and 
again, and now and then a cashier. 

Wherefore, that race of corsairs whom we dignify with 
the title of bankers, the gentry who take out a license for 
which they pay a thousand crowns, as the privateer takes 
out his letters of marque, hold these rare products of the 
incubations of virtue in such esteem that they confine them 
in cages in their counting-houses, much as governments pro- 
cure and maintain specimens of strange beasts at their own 
charges. 

If the cashier is possessed of an imagination or of a fervid 
temperament; if, as will sometimes happen to the most 
complete cashier, he loves his wife, and that wife grows 
tired of her lot, has ambitions, or merely some vanity in her 
composition, the cashier is undone. Search the chronicles 
of the counting-house. You will not find a single instance 
of a cashier attaining a position, as it is called. They are 
sent to the hulks ; they go to foreign parts ; they vegetate 
on a second flcfor in the Rue Saint-Louis among the market 
gardens of the Marais. Some day, when the cashiers of 
Paris come to a sense of their real value, a cashier will 
be hardly obtainable for money. Still, certain it is that 
there are people who are fit for nothing but to be cashiers, 
just as the bent of a certain order of mind inevitably makes 
for rascality. But, oh marvel of our civilization ! Society 



278 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

rewards virtue with an income of a hundred louis in old 
age, a dwelling on a second floor, bread sufficient, occa- 
sional new bandana handkerchiefs, an elderly wife and her 
offspring. 

So much for virtue. But for the opposite course, a little 
boldness, a faculty for keeping on the windward side of the 
law, as Turenne outflanked Mont6cuculli, and society will 
sanction the theft of millions, shower ribands upon the 
thief, cram him with honors, and smother him with consid- 
eration. 

Government, moreover, works harmoniously with this pro- 
foundly illogical reasoner society. Government levies a 
conscription on the young intelligence of the kingdom at the 
age of seventeen or eighteen, a conscription of precocious 
power. Great ability is prematurely exhausted by excessive 
brain-work before it is sent up to be submitted to a process of 
selection. Nurserymen sort and select seeds in much the same 
way. To this process the government brings professional 
appraisers of talent, men who can assay brains as experts assay 
gold at the Mint. Five hundred such heads, set afire with 
hope, are sent up annually by the most progressive portion of 
the population ; and of these the government takes one-third, 
puts them in sacks called the Ecoles, and shakes them up 
together for three years. Though every one of these young 
plants represents vast productive power, they are made, as one 
may say, into cashiers. They receive appointments ; the rank 
and file of engineers is made up of them ; they are employed 
as captains of artillery ; there is no (subaltern) grade to which 
they may not aspire. Finally, when these men, the pick of 
the youth of the nation, fattened on mathematics and stuffed 
with knowledge, have attained the age of fifty years, they 
have their reward, and receive as the price of their services 
the third-floor lodging, the wife and family, and all the com- 
forts that sweeten life for mediocrity. If from among this 
race of dupes there should escape some five or six men of 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 279 

genius, who climb the highest heights, is it not very miracu- 
lous? 

This is an exact statement of the relations between talent 
and probity on the one hand, and government and society on 
the other, in an age that considers itself to be progressive. 
Without this prefatory explanation a recent occurrence in 
Paris would seem improbable ; but preceded by this summing 
up of the situation, it will perhaps receive some thoughtful 
attention from minds capable of recognizing the real plague- 
spots of our civilization, a civilization which since 1815 has 
been moved by the spirit of gain rather than by principles of 
honor. 

About five o'clock, on a dull autumn afternoon, the cashier 
of one of the largest banks in Paris was still at his desk, 
working by the light of a lamp that had been lit for some 
time. In accordance with the use and wont of commerce, 
the counting-house was in the darkest corner of the low-ceiled 
and far from spacious mezzanine floor, and at the very end of 
a passage lighted only by borrowed lights. The office doors 
along this corridor, each with its label, gave the place the 
look of a bath-house. At four o'clock the stolid porter had 
proclaimed, according to his orders, " The bank is closed." 
And by this time the departments were deserted, the letters 
dispatched, the clerks had taken their leave. The wives of 
the partners in the firm were expecting their lovers ; the two 
bankers dining with their mistresses. Everything was in 
order. 

The place where the strong boxes had been bedded in 
sheet-iron was just behind the little sanctum, where the 
cashier was busy. Doubtless he was balancing his books. The 
open front gave a glimpse of a safe of hammered iron, so 
enormously heavy (thanks to the science of the modern in- 
ventor) that burglars could not carry it away. The door only 
opened at the pleasure of those who knew its password. The 



280 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

letter-lock was a warden who kept its own secret and could 
not be bribed ; the mysterious word was an ingenious real- 
ization of the "open sesame " in the "Arabian Nights." 
But even this was as nothing. A man might discover the 
password ; but unless he knew the lock's final secret, the 
ultima ratio of this gold-guarding dragon of mechanical sci- 
ence, it discharged a blunderbuss at his head. 

The door of the room, the walls of the room, the shutters 
of the windows in the room, the whole place, in fact, was 
lined with sheet-iron a third of an inch in thickness, con- 
cealed behind the thin wooden paneling. The shutters had 
been closed, the door had been shut. If ever man could feel 
confident that he was absolutely alone, and that there was no 
remote possibility of being watched by prying eyes, that man 
was the cashier of the house of Nucingen and Company, in the 
Rue Saint-Lazare. 

Accordingly the deepest silence prevailed in that iron cage. 
The fire had died out in the stove, but the room was full of 
that tepid warmth which produces the dull heavy-headedness 
and nauseous queasiness of a morning after an orgy. The 
stove is a mesmerist that plays no small part in the reduction 
of bank clerks and porters to a state of idiocy. 

A room with a stove in it is a retort in which the power of 
strong men is evaporated ; where their vitality is exhausted, 
and their wills enfeebled. Government offices are part of a 
great scheme for the manufacture of the mediocrity necessary 
for the maintenance of a feudal system on a pecuniary basis 
and money is the foundation of the social contract. (See 
Les Employ &s.~) The mephitic vapors in the atmosphere of a 
crowded room contribute in no small degree to bring about a 
gradual deterioration of intelligences, the brain that gives off 
the largest quantity of nitrogen asphyxiates the others, in the 
long run. 

The cashier was a man of five-and-forty or thereabouts. As 
he sat at the table, the light from a moderator lamp shining 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 281 

full on his bald head and glistening fringe of iron-gray hair 
that surrounded it this baldness and the round outlines of 
his face made his head look very like a ball. His complexion 
was brick-red, a few wrinkles had gathered about his eyes, but 
he had the smooth, plump hands of a stout man. His blue 
cloth coat, a little rubbed and worn, and the creases and 
shininess of his trousers, traces of hard wear that the clothes- 
brush fails to remove, would impress a superficial observer 
with the idea that here was a thrifty and upright human being, 
sufficient of the philosopher or of the aristocrat to wear 
shabby clothes. But, unluckily, it is easy to find penny-wise 
people who will prove weak, wasteful, or incompetent in the 
capital things of life. 

The cashier wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor at his 
button-hole, for he had been a major of dragoons in the time 
of the Emperor. M. de Nucingen, who had been a contrac- 
tor before he became a banker, had had reason in those days 
to know the honorable disposition of his cashier, who then 
occupied a high position. Reverses of fortune had befallen 
the major, and the banker out of regard for him paid him 
five hundred francs a month. The soldier had become a 
cashier in the year 1813, after his recovery from a wound re- 
ceived at Studzianka during the retreat from Moscow, fol- 
lowed by six months of enforced idleness at Strasbourg, whither 
several officers had been transported by order of the Emperor, 
that they might receive skilled attention. This particular 
officer, Castanier by name, retired with the honorary grade 
of colonel, and a pension of two thousand four hundred 
francs. 

In ten years' time the cashier had completely effaced the 
soldier, and Castanier inspired the banker with such trust in 
him that he was associated in the transactions that went on 
in the private office behind his little counting-house. The 
Baron himself had access to it by means of a secret staircase. 
There, matters of business were decided. It was the bolting- 



282 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

room where proposals were sifted ; the privy council chamber 
where the reports of the money market were analyzed ; cir- 
cular notes issued thence ; and, finally, the private ledger and 
the journal which summarized the work of all the departments 
were kept there. 

Castanier had gone himself to shut the door which opened 
on to a staircase that led to the parlor occupied by the two 
bankers on the first floor of their hotel. This done, he had 
sat down at his desk again, and for a moment he gazed at a 
little collection of letters of credit drawn on the firm of 
Watschildine, of London. Then he had taken up the pen 
and imitated the banker's signature upon each. Nucingen he 
wrote, and eyed the forged signatures critically to see which 
seemed the most perfect copy. 

Suddenly he looked up as if a needle had pricked him. 
"You are not alone ! " a boding voice seemed to cry in his 
heart ; and indeed the forger saw a man standing at the little 
grated window of the counting-house, a man whose breathing 
was so noiseless that he did not seem to breathe at all. Cas- 
tanier looked, and saw that the door at the end of the passage 
was wide open ; the stranger must have entered by that way. 

For the first time in his life the old soldier felt a sensation 
of dread that made him stare open-mouthed and wide-eyed at 
the man before him ; and for that matter, the appearance of 
the apparition was sufficiently alarming even if unaccompanied 
by the mysterious circumstances of so sudden an entry. The 
rounded forehead, the harsh coloring of the long oval face, 
indicated quite as plainly as the cut of his clothes that the 
man was an Englishman, reeking of his native isles. You had 
only to look at the collar of his overcoat, at the voluminous 
cravat which smothered the crushed frills of a shirt front so 
white that it brought out the changeless leaden hue of an im- 
passive face, and the thin red line of the lips that seemed 
made to suck the blood of corpses ; and you could guess at 
once at the black gaiters buttoned up to the knee, and the half- 



THE FORCER SAW A MAN STANDING AT THE LITTLE 
CRATED WINDOW. 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 283 

puritanical costume of a wealthy Englishman dressed for a 
walking excursion. The intolerable glitter of the stranger's 
eyes produced a vivid and unpleasant impression, which was 
only deepened by the rigid outlines of his features. Ttfe 
dried-up, emaciated creature seemed to carry within him 
some gnawing thought that consumed him and could not be 
appeased. 

He must have digested his food so rapidly that he could 
doubtless eat continually without bringing any trace of color 
into his face or features. A tun of Tokay vin de succession 
would not have caused any faltering in that piercing glance 
that read men's inmost thoughts, nor dethroned the merciless 
reasoning faculty that always seemed to go to the bottom of 
things. There was something of the fell and tranquil majesty 
of a tiger about him. 

" I have come to cash this bill of exchange, sir," he said. 
Castanier felt the tones of his voice thrill through every nerve 
with a violent shock similar to that given by a discharge of 
electricity. 

"The safe is closed," said Castanier, in the sententious 
tone so usual with bank officials. 

" It is open," said the Englishman, looking round the 
counting-house. " To-morrow will be Sunday, and I cannot 
wait. The amount is for five hundred thousand francs. You 
have the money there, and I must have it." 

"But how did you come in, sir?" 

The Englishman smiled. That smile frightened Castanier. 
No words could have replied more fully nor more peremptorily 
than that scornful and imperial curl of the stranger's lips. 
Castanier turned away, took up fifty packets, each containing 
ten thousand francs in bank-notes, and held them out to the 
stranger, receiving in exchange for them a bill accepted by 
the Baron de Nucingen. A sort of convulsive tremor ran 
through him as he saw a red gleam in the stranger's eyes 
when they fell on the forged signature on the letter of credit. 



284 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

"It wants your signature," stammered Castanier, handing 
back the bill. 

" Hand me your pen," answered the Englishman. 

Castanier handed him the pen with which he had just com- 
mitted forgery. The stranger wrote John Melmoth, then he 
returned the slip of paper and the pen to the cashier. Cas- 
tanier looked at the handwriting, noticing that it sloped from 
right to left in the Eastern fashion, and Melmoth disappeared so 
noiselessly that when Castanier looked up again an exclamation 
broke from him, partly because the man was no longer there, 
partly because he felt a strange painful sensation such as our 
imagination might take for an effect of poison. 

The pen that Melmoth had handled sent the same sickening 
heat through him that an emetic produces. But it seemed 
impossible to Castanier that the Englishman should have 
guessed his crime. His inward qualms he attributed to the 
palpitation of the heart that, according to received ideas, was 
sure to follow at once on such a " turn " as the stranger had 
given him. 

" The devil take it ; I am very stupid. Providence is 
watching over me ; for if that brute had come round to see 
my gentleman to-morrow, my goose would have been cooked ! " 
said Castanier, and he burned the unsuccessful attempts at 
forgery in the stove. 

He put the bill that he meant to take with him in an en- 
velope, and helped himself to five hundred thousand francs 
in French and English bank-notes from the safe, which he 
locked. Then he put everything in order, lit a candle, blew 
out the lamp, took up his hat and umbrella, and went out 
sedately, as usual, to leave one of the two keys of the strong 
room with Madame de Nucingen, in the absence of her hus- 
band the Baron. 

" You are in luck, M. Castanier," said the banker's wife as 
he entered her room ; "we have a holiday on Monday; you 
can go into the country, or to Soizy." 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 285 

" Madame, will you be so good as to tell your husband that 
the bill of exchange on Watschildine, which was behind time, 
has just been presented ? The five hundred thousand ftancs 
have been paid; so I shall not come back till noon on 
Tuesday." 

"Good-bye, monsieur; I hope you will have a pleasant 
time." 

" The same to you, madame," replied the old dragoon as 
he went out. He glanced as he spoke at a young man well 
known in fashionable society at that time, a M. de Rastignac, 
who was regarded as Madame de Nucingen's lover. 

"Madame," remarked this latter, "the old boy looks to 
me as if he meant to play you some ill turn." 

" Pshaw ! impossible; he is too stupid." 

" Piquoizeau," said the cashier, walking into the porter's 
room, " what made you let anybody come up after four 
o'clock?" 

"I have been smoking a pipe here in the doorway ever 
since four o'clock," said the man, "and nobody has gone 
into the bank. Nobody has come out either except the 
gentlemen " 

" Are you quite sure? " 

"Yes, upon my word and honor. Stay, though, at four 
o'clock M. Werbrust's friend came, a young fellow from 
Messrs, du Tillet & Co., in the Rue Joubert." 

"All right," said Castanier, and he hurried away. 

The sickening sensation of heat that he had felt when he 
took back the pen returned in greater intensity. " Mille 
diables /" thought he, as he threaded his way along the 
Boulevard de Gand, "haven't I taken proper precautions? 
Let me think ! Two clear days, Sunday and Monday, then a 
day of uncertainty before they begin to look for me, alto- 
gether, three days and four nights' respite. I have a couple 
of passports and two different disguises; is not that enough to 



286 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

throw the cleverest detective off the scent ? On Tuesday 
morning I shall draw a million francs in London before the 
slightest suspicion has been aroused. My debts I am leaving 
behind for the benefit of my creditors, who will put a ' P ' * 
on the bills, and I shall live comfortably in Italy for the rest 
of my days as the Count Ferraro. I was alone with him 
when he died, poor fellow, in the marsh of Zembin, and I 
shall slip into his skin. Mille diables / the woman who is to 
follow after me might give them a clue ! Think of an old 
campaigner like me infatuated enough to tie myself to a petti- 
coat tail ! Why take her ? I must leave her behind. Yes, I 
could make up my mind to it ; but I know myself I should 
be ass enough to go back for her. Still, nobody knows 
Aquilina. Shall I take her or leave her?" 

"You will not take her!" cried a voice that filled Cas- 
tanier with sickening dread. He turned sharply, and saw 
the Englishman. 

"The devil is in it !" cried the cashier aloud. 

Melmoth had passed his victim by this time ; and if Cas- 
tanier's first impulse had been to fasten a quarrel on a man 
who read his own thoughts, he was so much torn by opposing 
feelings that the immediate result was a temporary paralysis. 
When he resumed his walk he fell once more into that fever 
of irresolution which besets those who are so carried away by 
passion that they are ready to commit a crime, but have not 
sufficient strength of character to keep it to themselves with- 
out suffering terribly in the process. So, although Castanier 
had made up his mind to reap the fruits of a crime which was 
already half executed, he hesitated to carry out his designs. 
For him, as for many men of mixed character in whom weak- 
ness and strength are equally blended, the least trifling con- 
sideration determines whether they shall continue to lead 
blameless lives or become actively criminal. In the vast 
masses of men enrolled in Napoleon's armies there were many 
* Protested. 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 287 

who, like Castanier, possessed the purely physical courage 
demanded on the battlefield, yet lacked the moral courage 
which makes a man as great in crime as he could have be'en 
in virtue. 

The letter of credit was drafted in such terms that imme- 
diately on his arrival he might draw twenty-five thousand 
pounds on the firm of Watschildine, the London correspond- 
ents of the house of Nucingen. The London house had been 
i already advised of the draft about to be made upon them ; 
he had written to them himself. He had instructed an agent 
(chosen at random) to take his passage in a vessel which was 
to leave Portsmouth with a wealthy English family on board, 
who were going to Italy, and the passage-money had been 
paid in the name of the Count Ferraro. The smallest details 
of the scheme had been thought out. He had arranged mat- 
ters so as to divert the search that would be made for him 
into Belgium and Switzerland, while he himself was at sea in 
the English vessel. Then, by the time that Nucingen might 
flatter himself that he was on the track of his late cashier, the 
said cashier, as the Count Ferraro, hoped to be safe in Naples. 
He had determined to disfigure his face in order to disguise 
himself the more completely, and by means of an acid 
to imitate the scars of smallpox. Yet, in spite of all 
these precautions, which surely seemed as if they must 
secure him complete immunity, his conscience tormented 
him ; he was afraid. The even and peaceful life that he had 
led for so long had modified the morality of the camp. His 
life was stainless as yet ; he could not sully it without a pang. 
So for the last time he abandoned himself to all the influences 
of the better self that strenuously resisted. 

"Pshaw ! " he said at last, at the corner of the Boulevard 
and the Rue Montmartre, " I will take a cab after the play 
this evening and go out to Versailles. A postchaise will be 
ready for me at my old quartermaster's place. He would 
keep my secret even if a dozen men were standing ready to 



288 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

shoot him down. The chances are all in my favor, so far as 
I can see ; so I shall take my little Naqui with me, and I 
will go." 

" You will not go!" exclaimed the Englishman, and the 
strange tones of his voice drove all the cashier's blood back 
to his heart. 

Melmoth stepped into a tilbury which was waiting for him, 
and was whirled away so quickly that when Castanier looked 
up he saw his foe some hundred paces away from him, and 
before it even crossed his mind to cut off the man's retreat 
the tilbury was far on its way up the Boulevard Montmartre. 

"Well, upon my word, there is something supernatural 
about this ! " said he to himself. " If I were fool enough to 
believe in God, I should think that He had set Saint Michael 
on my tracks. Suppose that the devil and the police should 
let me go on as I please, so as to nab me in the nick of time ? 
Did any one ever see the like ! But there, this is folly " 

Castanier went along the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, 
slackening his pace as he neared the Rue Richer. There, on 
the second floor of a block of buildings which looked out 
upon some gardens, lived the unconscious cause of Castanier's 
crime a young woman known in the quarter as Mme. de la 
Garde. A concise history of certain events in the cashier's 
past life must be given in order to explain these facts, and to 
give a complete presentment of the crisis when he yielded to 
temptation. 

Mme. de la Garde said that she was a Piedmontese. No 
one, not even Castanier, knew her real name. She was one 
of those young girls who are driven by dire misery, by in- 
ability to earn a living, or by fear of starvation, to have 
recourse to a trade which most of them loathe, many regard 
with indifference, and some few follow in obedience to the 
laws of their constitution. But on the brink of the gulf of 
prostitution in Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and 
pure as the Madonna, had met with Castanier. The old 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 289 

dragoon was too rough and homely to make his way in 
society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at night 
and of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some 
time past he had desired to bring a certain regularity into an 
irregular life. He was struck by the beauty of the poor child 
who had drifted by chance into his arms, and his determina- 
tion to rescue her from the life of the streets was half-benev- 
olent, half-selfish, as some of the thoughts of the best of men 
are apt to be. Social conditions mingle elements of evil 
with the promptings of natural goodness of heart, and the 
mixture of motives underlying a man's intentions should be 
leniently judged. Castanier had just cleverness enough to be 
very shrewd where his own interests were concerned. So he 
concluded to be a philanthropist on either count, and at first 
made her his mistress. 

" Hey ! hey ! " he said to himself, in his soldierly fashion, 
" I am an old wolf, and a sheep shall not make a fool of me. 
Castanier, old man, before you set up housekeeping, recon- 
noitre the girl's character for a bit, and see if she is a steady 
sort." 

This irregular union gave the Piedmontese a status the most 
nearly approaching respectability among those which the world 
declines to recognize. During the first year she took the nom 
de guerre of Aquilina, one of the characters in Venice Pre- 
served, which she had chanced to read. She fancied that she 
resembled the courtesan in face and general appearance, and 
in a certain precocity of heart and brain of which she was 
conscious. When Castanier found that her life was as well 
regulated and virtuous as was possible for a social outlaw, he 
manifested a desire that they should live as husband and wife. 
So she took the name of Mme. de la Garde, in order to 
approach, as closely as Parisian usages permit, the conditions 
of a real marriage. As a matter of fact, many of these 
unfortunate girls have one fixed idea, to be looked upon as 
respectable middle-class women, who lead humdrum lives of 
19 



290 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

faithfulness to their husbands ; women who would make excel- 
lent mothers, keepers of household accounts, and menders of 
household linen. This longing springs from a sentiment so 
laudable that society should take it into consideration. But 
society, incorrigible as ever, will assuredly persist in regarding 
the married woman as a corvette duly authorized by her flag 
and papers to go on her own course, while the woman who is 
a wife in all but name is a pirate and an outlaw for lack of a 
document. A day came when Mme. de la Garde would fain 
have signed herself " Mme. Castanier." The cashier was put 
out by this. 

"So you do not love me well enough to marry me?" 
she said. 

Castanier did not answer ; he was absorbed by his thoughts. 
The poor girl resigned herself to her fate. The ex-dragoon 
was in despair. Naqui's heart softened towards him at the 
sight of his trouble ; she tried to soothe him, but what could 
she do when she did not know what ailed him ? When Naqui 
made up her mind to know the secret, although she never asked 
him a question, the cashier dolefully confessed to the exist- 
ence of a Mme. Castanier. This lawful wife, a thousand 
times accursed, was living in a humble way in Strasbourg on 
a small property there ; he wrote to her twice a year, and kept 
the secret of her existence so well that no one suspected that 
he was married. The reason of this reticence? If it is famil- 
iar to many military men who may chance to be in a like 
predicament, it is perhaps worth while to give the story. 

Your genuine trooper (if it is allowable here to employ the 
word which in the army signifies a man who is destined to die 
as a captain) is a sort of serf, a part and parcel of his regi- 
ment, an essentially simple creature, and Castanier was 
marked out by nature as a victim to the wiles of mothers with 
grown-up daughters left too long on their hands. It was at 
Nancy, during one of those brief intervals of repose when 
the Imperial armies were not on active service abroad, that 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 201 

Castanier was so unlucky as to pay some attention to a young 
lady with whom he danced at a ridotto, the provincial name 
for the entertainments often given by the military to tne 
townsfolk, or vice versa, in garrison towns. A scheme for 
inveigling the gallant captain into matrimony was immediately 
set on foot, one of those schemes by which mothers secure 
accomplices in a human heart by touching all its motive 
springs, while they convert all their friends into fellow-con- 
spirators. 

Like all people possessed by one idea, these ladies press 
everything into the service of their great project, slowly 
elaborating their toils, much as the ant-lion excavates its 
funnel in the sand and lies in wait at the bottom for its 
victim. Suppose that no one strays, after all, into that care- 
fully constructed labyrinth ? Suppose that the ant-lion dies 
of hunger and thirst in her pit ? Such things may be, but if 
any heedless creature once enters in, it never comes out. All 
the wires which could be pulled to induce action on the 
captain's part were tried ; appeals were made to the' secret 
interested motives that always come into play in such cases ; 
they worked on Castanier's hopes and on the weaknesses and 
vanity of human nature. Unluckily, he had praised the 
daughter to her mother when he brought her back after a 
waltz, a little chat followed, and then an invitation in the 
most natural way in the world. Once introduced into the 
house, the dragoon was dazzled by the hospitality of a family 
who appeared to conceal their real wealth beneath a show of 
careful economy. He was skilfully flattered on all sides, and 
every one extolled for his benefit the various treasures there 
displayed. A neatly-timed dinner, served on plate loaned by 
an uncle, the attention shown to him by the only daughter of 
the house, the gossip of the town, a well-to-do sub-lieutenant 
who seemed likely to cut the ground from under his feet all 
the innumerable snares, in short, of the provincial ant-lion 
were set for him, and to such good purpose, that Castanier 



292 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

said five years later, "To this day I do not know how it 
came about ! " 

The dragoon received fifteen thousand francs with the lady, 
who, after two years of marriage, became the ugliest and con- 
sequently the most peevish woman on earth. Luckily they 
had no children. The fair complexion (maintained by a 
Spartan regimen), the fresh, bright color in her face, which 
spoke of an engaging modesty, became overspread with 
blotches and pimples ; her figure, which had seemed so 
straight, grew crooked, the angel became a suspicious and 
shrewish creature who drove Castanier frantic. Then the for- 
fune took to itself wings. At length the dragoon, no longer 
recognizing the woman whom he had wedded, left her to live 
on a little property at Strasbourg, until the time when it 
should please God to remove her to adorn paradise. She 
was one of those virtuous women who, for want of other 
occupation, would weary the life out of an angel with com- 
plainings, who pray till (if their prayers are heard in heaven) 
they must exhaust the patience of the Almighty, and say 
everything that is bad of their husbands in dove-like murmurs 
over a game of boston with their neighbors. When Aquilina 
learned all these troubles she clung still more affectionately to 
Castanier, and made him so happy, varying with woman's 
ingenuity the pleasures with which she filled his life, that all 
unwittingly she was the cause of the cashier's downfall. 

Like many women who seem by nature destined to sound 
all the depths of love, Mme. de la Garde was disinterested. 
She asked neither for gold nor for jewelry, gave no thought 
to the future, lived entirely for the present and for the pleas- 
ures of the present. She accepted expensive ornaments and 
dresses, the carriage so eagerly coveted by women of her 
class, as one harmony the more in the picture of life. There 
was absolutely no vanity in her desire not to appear at a better 
advantage but to look the fairer, and, moreover, no woman 
could live without luxuries more cheerfully. When a man of 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 293 

generous nature (and military men are mostly of this stamp) 
meets with such a woman, he feels a sort of exasperation ^ajt 
finding himself her debtor in generosity. He feels that he 
could stop a mail-coach to obtain money for her if he has not 
sufficient for her whims. He will commit a crime if so he 
may be great and noble in the eyes of some woman or of his 
special public ; such is the nature of the man. Such a lover 
is like a gambler who would be dishonored in his own eyes if 
he did not repay the sum he borrowed from a waiter in a 
gaming-house ; but will shrink from no crime, will leave his 
wife and children without a penny, and rob and murder, if so 
he may come to the gaming table with a full purse, and his 
honor remain untarnished among the frequenters of that fatal 
abode. So it was with Castanier. 

He had begun by installing Aquilina in a modest fourth- 
floor dwelling, the furniture being of the simplest kind. But 
when he saw the girl's beauty and great qualities, when he had 
known inexpressible and unlooked-for happiness with her, he 
began to dote upon her, and longed to adorn his idol. Then 
Aquilina's toilet was so comically out of keeping with her 
poor abode, that for both their sakes it was clearly incumbent 
on him to move. The change swallowed up almost all Casta- 
nier's savings, for he furnished his domestic paradise with all 
the prodigality that is lavished on a kept mistress. A pretty 
woman must have everything pretty about her ; the unity of 
charm in the woman and her surroundings singles her out 
from among her sex. This sentiment of homogeneity indeed, 
though it has frequently escaped the attention of observers, 
is instinctive in human nature ; and the same prompting leads 
elderly spinsters to surround themselves with dreary relics of 
the past. But the lovely Piedmontese must have the newest 
and latest fashions, and all that was daintiest and prettiest in 
stuffs for hangings, in silks or jewelry, in fine china and other 
brittle and fragile wares. She asked for nothing ; but when 
she was called upon to make a choice, when Castanier asked 



294 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

her, "Which do you like?" she would answer, "Why, this 
is the nicest ! " Love never counts the cost, and Castanier 
therefore always took the "nicest." 

When once the standard had been set up, there was noth- 
ing for it but everything in the household must be in con- 
formity, from the linen, plate, and crystal through a thousand 
and one items of expenditure down to the pots and pans in 
the kitchen. Castanier had meant to "do things simply," as 
the saying goes, but he gradually found himself more and 
more in debt. One expense entailed another. The clock 
called for candle sconces. Fires must be lighted in the orna- 
mental grates, but the curtains and hangings were too fresh 
and delicate to be soiled by smuts, so they must be replaced 
by patent and elaborate fireplaces, warranted to give out no 
smoke, recent inventions of the people who are clever at 
drawing up a prospectus. Then Aquilina found it so nice to 
run about barefooted on the carpet in her room, that Casta- 
nier must have soft carpets laid everywhere for the pleasure of 
playing with Naqui. A bathroom, too, was built for her, 
everything to the end that she might be more comfortable. 

Shopkeepers, workmen, and manufacturers in Paris have a 
mysterious knack of enlarging a hole in a man's purse. They 
cannot give the price of anything upon inquiry ; and as the 
paroxysm of longing cannot abide delay, orders are given by 
the feeble light of an approximate estimate of cost. The 
same people never send in the bills at once, but ply the pur- 
chaser with furniture till his head spins. Everything is so 
pretty, so charming ; and every one is satisfied. 

A few months later the obliging furniture dealers are meta- 
morphosed, and reappear in the shape of alarming totals on 
invoices that fill the soul with their horrid clamor ; they are 
in urgent want of the money ; they are, as you may say, on the 
brink of bankruptcy, their tears flow, it is heartrending to 

hear them ! And then the gulf yawns, and gives up 

serried columns of figures marching four deep, when, as a 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 295 

matter of fact, they should have issued innocently three by 
three. 

Before Castanier had any idea of how much he had spenbf 
he had arranged for Aquilina to have a carriage from a livery 
stable when she went out, instead of a cab. Castanier was a 
gourmand ; he engaged an excellent cook ; and Aquilina, to 
please him, had herself made the purchases of early fruit and 
vegetables, rare delicacies, and exquisite wines. But, as 
Aquilina had nothing of her own, these gifts of hers, so 
precious by reason of the thought and tact and graciousness 
that prompted them, were no less a drain upon Castanier's 
purse ; he did not like his Naqui to be without money, and 
Naqui could not keep money in her pocket. So the table 
was a heavy item of expenditure for a man with Castanier's 
income. The ex-dragoon was compelled to resort to various 
shifts for obtaining money, for he could not bring himself to 
renounce this delightful life. He loved the woman too well to 
cross the freaks of the mistress. He was one of those men 
who, through self-love or through weakness of character, can 
refuse nothing to a woman ; false shame overpowers them, 
and they rather face ruin than make the admissions : " I can- 
not " "My means will not permit " "I cannot 

afford " 

When, therefore, Castanier saw that if he meant to emerge 
from the abyss of debt into which he had plunged, he must 
part with Aquilina and live upon bread and water, he was so 
unable to do without her or to change his habits of life 
that daily he put off his plans of reform until the morrow. 
The debts were pressing, and he began by borrowing money. 
His position and previous character inspired confidence, and 
of this he took advantage to devise a system of borrowing 
money as he required it. Then, as the total amount of debt 
rapidly increased, he had recourse to those commercial inven- 
tions known as accommodation bills. This form of bill does 
not represent goods or other value received, and the first 



296 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

endorser pays the amount named for the obliging person who 
accepts it. This species of fraud is tolerated because it is 
impossible to detect it, and, moreover, it is an imaginary 
fraud which only becomes real if payment is ultimately re- 
fused. 

When at length it was evidently impossible to borrow any 
longer, whether because the amount of the debt was now so 
greatly increased, or because Castanier was unable to pay the large 
amount of interest on the aforesaid sums of money, the cashier 
saw bankruptcy before him. On making this discovery, he 
decided for a fraudulent bankruptcy rather than an ordinary 
failure, and preferred a crime to a misdemeanor. He deter- 
mined, after the fashion of the celebrated cashier of the Royal 
Treasury, to abuse the trust deservedly won, and to increase 
the number of his creditors by making a final loan of the 
sum sufficient to keep him in comfort in a foreign country for 
the rest of his days. All this, as has been seen, he had pre- 
pared to do. 

Aquilina knew nothing of the irksome cares of this life ; 
she enjoyed her existence, as many a woman does, making no 
inquiry as to where the money came from, even as sundry 
other folk will eat their buttered rolls untroubled by any rest- 
less spirit of curiosity as to the culture and growth of wheat ; 
but as the labor and miscalculations of agriculture lie on the 
other side of the baker's oven, so, beneath the unappreciated 
luxury of many a Parisian household, lie intolerable anxieties 
and exorbitant toil. 

While Castanier was enduring the torture of the strain, and 
his thoughts were full of the deed that should change his 
whole life, Aquilina was lying luxuriously back in a great 
armchair by the fireside, beguiling the time by chatting with 
her waiting-maid. As frequently happens in such cases, the 
maid had become the mistress' confidante, Jenny having first 
assured herself that her mistress' ascendency over Castanier 
was complete. 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 297 

" What are we to do this evening? Leon seems determined 
to come," Mme. de la Garde was saying, as she read a oas- 
sionate epistle indited upon a faint gray note-paper. 

" Here is the master ! " said Jenny. 

Castanier came in. Aquilina, nowise disconcerted, crumpled 
up the letter, took it with the tongs, and held it in the flames. 

"So that is what you do with your love-letters, is it?" 
asked Castanier. 

"Oh, goodness, yes," said Aquilina; "is it not the best 
way of keeping them safe ? Besides, fire should go to the fire, 
as water makes for the river." 

" You are talking as if it were a real love-letter, Naqui " 

" Well, am I not handsome enough to receive them? " she 
said, holding up her forehead for a kiss. There was a care- 
lessness in her manner that would have told any man less 
blind than Castanier that it was only a piece of conjugal duty, 
as it were, to give this joy to the cashier ; but use and wont 
had brought Castanier to the point where clear-sightedness is 
no longer possible for love. 

"I have taken a box at the Gymnase this evening," he 
said ; "let us have dinner early, and then we need not dine 
in a hurry." 

" Go and take Jenny. I am tired of plays. I do not 
know what is the matter with me this evening ; I would rather 
stay here by the fire." 

" Come, all the same though, Naqui ; I shall not be here to 
bore you much longer. Yes, Naqui, I am going to start to- 
night, and it will be some time before I come back again. I 
am leaving everything in your charge. Will you keep your 
heart for me too? " 

"Neither my heart nor anything else," she said; "but 
when you come back again, Naqui will still be Naqui for 
you." 

" Well, this is frankness. So you would not follow me? " 

" No." 



298 MEL MOTH RECONCILED. 

"Why not?" 

"Eh! why, how can I leave the lover who writes me such 
sweet little notes?" she asked, pointing to the blackened 
scrap of paper with a mocking smile. 

" Is there any truth in it ? " asked Castanier. " Have you 
really a lover?" 

" Really ! " cried Aquilina ; " and have you never given it 
a serious thought, dear ? To begin with, you are fifty years 
old. Then you have just the sort of face to put on a fruit 
stall ; if the woman tried to sell you for a pumpkin, no one 
would contradict her. You puff and blow like a seal when 
you come upstairs ; your paunch rises and falls like the dia- 
mond on a woman's forehead ! It is pretty plain that you 
served in the dragoons ! you are a very ugly-looking old man. 
Fiddle-de-dee. If you have any mind to keep my respect, I 
recommend you not to add imbecility to these qualities by 
imagining that such a girl as I am will be content with your 
asthmatic love, and not look for youth and good looks and 
pleasure by way of a variety " 

"Aquilina! you are laughing, of course?" 

" Oh, very well; and are you not laughing too? Do you 
take me for a fool, telling me that you are going away ? ' I 
am going to start to-night ! ' she said, mimicking his tones. 
Stuff and nonsense 1 Would you talk like that if you were 
really going away from your Naqui? You would cry, like 
the booby that you are ! ' ' 

"After all, if I go, will you follow? " he asked. 

"Tell me first whether this journey of yours is a bad joke 
or not." 

" Yes, seriously, I am going." 

"Well, then, seriously, I shall stay. A pleasant journey 
to you, my boy ! I will wait till you come back. I would 
sooner take leave of life than take leave of my dear, cozy 
Paris " 

" Will you not come to Italy, to Naples, and lead a pleasant 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 299 

life there a delicious, luxurious life, with this stout old fogy 
of yours, who puffs and blows like a seal? " * 

"No." 

"Ungrateful girl ! " 

"Ungrateful?" she cried, rising to her feet. "I might 
leave this house this moment and take nothing out of it but 
myself. I shall have given you all the treasures a young girl 
can give, and something that not every drop in your veins and 
mine can ever give me back. If, by any means whatever, by 
selling my hopes of eternity, for instance, I could recover my 
past self, body and soul (for I have, perhaps, redeemed my 
soul), and be pure as a lily for my lover, I would not hesitate 
a moment ! What sort of devotion has rewarded mine? You 
have housed and fed me, just as you give a dog food and a 
kennel because he is a protection to the house, and he may 
take kicks when we are out of humor, and lick our hands as 
soon as we are pleased to call to him. And which of us two 
will have been the more generous?" she curtly asked Cas- 
tanier in conclusion. 

" Oh ! dear child, do you not see that I am joking ? " re- 
turned Castanier. "lam going on a short journey; I shall 
not be away for very long. But come with me to the Gym- 
nase ; I shall start just before midnight, after I have had time 
to say good-bye to you." 

"Poor pet ! so you are really going, are you?" she said. 
She put her arms round his neck, and drew down his head 
against her bodice. 

" You are smothering me ! " cried Castanier, with his face 
buried in Aquilina's breast. That damsel turned to say in 
Jenny's ear, " Go to Leon, and tell him not to come till one 
o'clock. If you do not find him, and he comes here during 
the leave-taking, keep him in your room. Well," she went 
on, setting free Castanier, and giving a tweak to the tip of his 
nose, " never mind, handsomest of seals that you are. I will 
go to the theatre with you this evening. But all in good 



300 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

time ; let us have dinner ! There is a nice little dinner for 
you just what you like." 

"It is very hard to part from such a woman as you ! " ex- 
claimed Castanier. 

" Very well then, why do you go ? " asked she. 

"Ah ! why? why? If I were to begin to explain the rea- 
sons why, I must tell you things that would prove to you that 
I love you almost to madness. Ah ! if you have sacrificed 
your honor for me, I have sold mine for you ; we are quits. 
Is that love?" 

" What is all this about? " said she. " Come, now, promise 
me that if I had a lover you would still love me as a father ; 
that would be love ! Come, now, promise it at once, and 
give us your fist upon it." 

" I should kill you," and Castanier smiled as he spoke. 

They sat down to the dinner table, and went thence to the 
Gymnase. When the first part of the performance was over, 
it occurred to Castanier to show himself to some of his ac- 
quaintances in the house, so as to turn away any suspicion of 
his departure. He left Mme. de la Garde in the corner box 
where she was seated, according to her modest wont, and 
went to walk up and down in the lobby. He had not gone 
many paces before he saw the Englishman, and with a sudden 
return of the sickening sensation of heat that once before had 
vibrated through him, and of the terror that he had felt 
already, he stood face to face with Melmoth. 

"Forger!" 

At the word, Castanier glanced round at the people who 
were moving about them. He fancied that he could see aston- 
ishment and curiosity in their eyes, and wishing to be rid of 
this Englishman at once, he raised his hand to strike him 
and felt his arm paralyzed by some invisible power that sapped 
his strength and nailed him to the spot. He allowed the 
stranger to take him by the arm, and they walked together to 
the green-room like two friends. 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 301 

" Who is strong enough to resist me ? " said the Englishman, 
addressing him. " Do you not know that everything here on 
earth must obey me, that it is in my power to do everything ? 
I read men's thoughts, I see the future, and I know the past. 
I am here, and I can be elsewhere also. Time and space and 
distance are nothing to me. The whole world is at my beck 
and call. I have the power of continual enjoyment and of 
giving joy. I can see through walls, discover hidden treas- 
ures, and fill my hands with them. Palaces arise at my nod, 
and my architect makes no mistakes. I can make all lands 
break forth into blossom, heap up their gold and precious 
stones, and surround myself with fair women and ever-new 
faces; everything is yielded up to my will. I could gamble 
on the Stock Exchange, and my speculations would be infal- 
lible ; but a man who can find the hoards that misers have 
hidden in the earth need not trouble himself about stocks. 
Feel the strength of the hand that grasps you ; poor wretch, 
doomed to shame ! Try to bend the arm of iron ! try to 
soften the adamantine heart ! Fly from me if you dare ! 
You would hear my voice in the depths of the caves that lie 
under the Seine ; you might hide in the Catacombs, but would 
you not see me there? My voice could be heard through the 
sound of the thunder, my eyes shine as brightly as the sun, 
for I am the peer of Lucifer ! " 

Castanier heard the terrible words, and felt no protest nor 
contradiction within himself. He walked side by side with 
the Englishman, and had no power to leave him. 

" You are mine ; you have just committed a crime. I have 
found at last the mate whom I have sought. Have you a mind 
to learn your destiny ? Aha ! you came here to see a play, 
and you shall see a play nay, two. Come. Present me to 
Mme. de la Garde as one of your best friends. Am I not 
your last hope of escape?" 

Castanier, followed by the stranger, returned to his box, 
and, in accordance with the order he had just received, he 



302 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

hastened to introduce Melmoth to Mme. de la Garde. Aquilina 
seemed to be not in the least surprised. The Englishman 
declined to take a seat in front, and Castanier was once more 
beside his mistress ; the man's slightest wish must be obeyed. 
The last piece was about to begin, for, at that time, small thea- 
tres only gave three pieces. One of the actors had made the 
Gymnase the fashion, and that evening Perlet (the actor in 
question) was to play in a vaudeville called the Le Comedien 
d'Etampes, in which he filled four different parts. 

When the curtain rose, the stranger stretched out his hand 
over the crowded house. Castanier's cry of terror died away, 
for the walls of his throat seemed glued together as Melmoth 
pointed to the stage, and the cashier knew that the play had 
been changed at the Englishman's desire. 

He saw the strong-room at the bank ; he saw the Baron de 
Nucingen in conference with a police-officer from the Prefec- 
ture, who was informing him of Castanier's conduct, explain- 
ing that the cashier had absconded with money taken from 
the safe, giving the history of the forged signature. The 
information was put in writing ; the document signed and 
duly despatched to the Public Prosecutor. 

" Are we in time, do you think? " asked Nucingen. 

"Yes," said the agent of police; " he is at the Gymnase, 
and has no suspicion of anything." 

Castanier fidgeted on his chair, and made as if he would 
leave the theatre, but Melmoth' s hand lay on his shoulder, 
and he was obliged to sit and watch ; the hideous power of 
the man produced an effect like that of nightmare, and he 
could not move a limb. Nay, the man himself was the night- 
mare ; his presence weighed heavily on his victim like a 
poisoned atmosphere. When the wretched cashier turned to 
implore the Englishman's mercy, he met those blazing eyes 
that discharged electric currents, which pierced through him 
and transfixed him like darts of steel. 

"What have I done to you?" he said, in his prostrate 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 303 

helplessness, and he breathed hard like a stag at the water's 
edge. " What do you want of me ? " 

"Look! " cried Melmoth. 

Castanier looked at the stage. The scene had been changed. 
The play seemed to be over, and Castanier beheld himself 
stepping from the carriage with Aquilina ; but as he entered 
the courtyard of the house in the Rue Richer, the scene again 
was suddenly changed, and he saw his own house. Jenny was 
chatting by the fire in her mistress' room with a subaltern 
officer of a line regiment then stationed at Paris. 

"He is going, is he?" said the sergeant, who seemed to 
belong to a family in easy circumstances; "I can be happy 
at my ease ! I love Aquilina too well to allow her to belong 
to that old toad ! I, myself, am going to marry Mme. de la 
Garde ! " cried the sergeant. 

" Old toad ! " Castanier murmured piteously. 

"Here come the master and mistress; hide yourself! 
Stay, get in here, Monsieur Leon," said Jenny. "The mas- 
ter won't stay here for very long." 

Castanier watched the sergeant hide himself among Aqui- 
lina's gowns in her dressing-room. Almost immediately he 
himself appeared upon the scene, and took leave of his mis- 
tress, who made fun of him in " asides " to Jenny, while she 
uttered the sweetest and tenderest words in his ears. She 
wept with one side of her face, and laughed with the other. 
The audience called for an encore. 

"Accursed creature ! " cried Castanier from his box. 

Aquilina was laughing till the tears came into her eyes. 

"Goodness!" she cried, "how funny Perlet is as the 
Englishwoman ! Why don't you laugh? Every one else in 
the house is laughing. Laugh, dear ! " she said to Castanier. 

Melmoth burst out laughing, and the unhappy cashier 
shuddered. The Englishman's laughter wrung his heart and 
tortured his brain ; it was as if a surgeon had bored his skull 
with a red-hot iron. 



304 MELMO7H RECONCILED. 

" Laughing ! are they laughing ? " stammered Castanier. 

He did not see the prim English lady whom Perlet was act- 
ing with such ludicrous effect, nor hear the English French 
that had filled the house with roars of laughter ; instead of all 
this, he beheld himself hurrying from the Rue Richer, hail- 
ing a cab on the Boulevard, bargaining with the man to take 
him to Versailles. Then once more the scene changed. He 
recognized the sorry inn at the corner of the Rue de 1'Oran- 
gerie and the Rue des Recollets, which was kept by his old 
quartermaster. It was two o'clock in the morning, the most 
perfect stillness prevailed, no one was there to watch his 
movements. The post-horses were put into the carriage (it 
came from a house in the Avenue de Paris in which an 
Englishman lived, and had been ordered in the foreigner's 
name to avoid raising suspicion). Castanier saw that he had 
his bills and his passports, stepped into the carriage, and set 
out. But at the barrier he saw two gendarmes lying in wait 
for the carriage. A cry of horror burst from him, but Mel- 
moth gave him a glance, and again the sound died in his 
throat. 

"Keep your eyes on the stage, and be quiet !" said the 
Englishman. 

In another moment Castanier saw himself flung into prison 
at the Conciergerie ; and in the fifth act of the drama, enti- 
tled "The Cashier," he saw himself, in three months' time, 
condemned to twenty years of penal servitude. Again a cry 
broke from him. He was exposed upon the Place du Palais- 
de-Justice, and the executioner branded him with a red-hot 
iron. Then came the last scene of all ; among some sixty 
convicts in the prison yard of the Bic&tre, he was awaiting 
his turn to have the irons riveted on his limbs. 

"Dear me! I cannot laugh any more?" said Aquilina. 
"You are very solemn, dear boy; what can be the matter? 
The gentleman has gone." 

"A word with you, Castanier," said Melmoth when the 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 305 

piece was at an end, and the attendant was fastening Mme. 
de la Garde's cloak. 

The corridor was crowded, and escape impossible. 

" Very well, what is it ? " 

" No human power can hinder you from taking Aquilina 
home, and going next to Versailles, there to be arrested." 

"How so?" 

" Because you are in a hand that will never relax its grasp," 
returned the Englishman. 

Castanier longed for the power to utter some word that 
should blot him out from among living men and hide him in 
the lowest depths of hell. 

" Suppose that the devil were to make a bid for your soul, 
would you not give it to him now in exchange for the power of 
God? One single word, and those five hundred thousand 
francs shall be back in the Baron de Nucingen's safe ; then 
you can tear up your letter of credit, and all traces of your 
crime will be obliterated. Moreover, you would have gold 
in torrents. You hardly believe in anything perhaps ? Well, 
if all this comes to pass, you will believe at least in the 
devil." 

" If it were only possible ! " said Castanier joyfully. 

" The man who can do it all gives you his word that it is 
possible," answered the Englishman. 

Melmoth, Castanier, and Mme. de la Garde were standing 
out in the Boulevard when Melmoth raised his arm. A driz- 
zling rain was falling, the streets were muddy, the air was 
close, there was thick darkness overhead ; but in a moment, 
as the arm was outstretched, Paris was filled with sunlight ; it 
was high noon on a bright July day. The trees were covered 
with leaves; a double stream of joyous holiday makers strolled 
beneath them. Sellers of licorice water shouted their cool 
drinks. Splendid carriages rolled past along the streets. A 
cry of terror broke from the cashier, and at that cry rain and 
darkness once more settled down upon the Boulevard. 
20 



306 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

Mme. de la Garde had stepped into the carriage. " Do be 
quick, dear ! " she cried, " either come in or stay out. Really 
you are as dull as ditch water this evening " 

" What must I do? " Castanier asked of Melmoth. 

"Would you like to take my place?" inquired the Eng- 
lishman. 

"Yes." 

" Very well, then ; I will be at your house in a few mo- 
ments." 

"By the by, Castanier, you are rather off your balance?" 
Aquilina remarked. " There is some mischief brewing ; you 
were quite melancholy and thoughtful all through the play. 
Do you want anything that I can give you, dear? Tell me ? " 

"I am waiting till we are at home to know whether you 
love me." 

"You need not wait till then," she said, throwing her arms 
round his neck. "There! " she said, as she embraced him, 
passionately to all appearance, and plied him with the coaxing 
caresses that are part of the business of such a life as hers, like 
stage action for an actress. 

" Where is the music? " asked Castanier. 

" What next ? Only think of your hearing music now ! " 

" Heavenly music ! " he went on. " The sounds seem to 
come from above." 

" What ? You have always refused to give me a box at the 
Italiens because you could not abide music, and are you turn- 
ing music-mad at this time of day ? Mad that you are ! 
The music is inside your own noddle, old addle-pate ! " she 
went on, as she took his head in her hands and rocked it to 
and fro on her shoulder. "Tell me now, old man; isn't it 
the creaking of the wheels that sings in your ears ? " 

"Just listen, Naqui ! If the angels make music for God 
Almighty, it must be such music as this that I am drinking in 
at every pore, rather than hearing. I do not know how to tell 
you about it ; it is as sweet as honey-water ! " 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 307 

"Why, of course, they have music in heaven, for the angels 
in all the pictures have harps in their hands. He is mad, 
upon my word! " she said to herself, as she saw Castanier's 
attitude ; he looked like an opium-eater in a blissful trance. 

They reached the house. Castanier, absorbed by the 
thought of all that he had just heard and seen, knew not 
whether to believe it or no ; he was like a drunken man, and 
utterly unable to think connectedly. He came to himself in 
Aquilina's room, whither he had been supported by the united 
efforts of his mistress, the porter, and Jenny; for he had 
fainted as he stepped from the carriage. 

"He will be here directly ! Oh, my friends, my friends ! " 
he cried, and he flung himself despairingly into the depths of 
a low chair beside the fire. 

Jenny heard the bell as he spoke, and admitted the English- 
man. She announced that "a gentleman had come who had 
made an appointment with the master," when Melmoth sud- 
denly appeared, and deep silence followed. He looked at the 
porter the porter went; he looked at Jenny and Jenny 
went likewise. 

"Madame," said Melmoth, turning to Aquilina, "with 
your permission, we will conclude a piece of urgent business." 

He took Castanier's hand, and Castanier rose, and the two 
men went into the drawing-room. There was no light in the 
room, but Melmoth's eyes lit up the thickest darkness. The 
gaze of those strange eyes had left Aquilina like one spell- 
bound ; she was helpless, unable to take any thought for her 
lover; moreover, she believed him to be safe in Jenny's room, 
whereas their early return had taken the waiting-woman by 
surprise, and she had hidden the officer in the dressing-room. 
It had all happened exactly' as in the drama that Melmoth 
had displayed for his victim. Presently the house-door was 
slammed violently, and Castanier reappeared. 

"What ails you?" cried the horror-struck Aquilina. 

There was a change in the cashier's appearance. A strange 



308 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

pallor overspread his once rubicund countenance ; it wore the 
peculiarly sinister and stony look of the mysterious visitor. 
The sullen glare of his eyes was intolerable, the fierce light in 
them seemed to scorch. The man who had looked so good- 
humored and good-natured had suddenly grown tyrannical 
and proud. The courtesan thought that Castanier had grown 
thinner; there was a terrible majesty in his brow; it was as if 
a dragon breathed forth a malignant influence that weighed 
upon the others like a close, heavy atmosphere. For a moment 
Aquilina knew not what to do. 

" What passed between you and that diabolical-looking 
man in those few minutes ? ' ' she asked at length. 

" I have sold my soul to him. I feel it ; I am no longer 
the same. He has taken my self, and given me his soul in 
exchange. ' ' 

"What?" 

"You would not understand it at all Ah! he was 

right," Castanier went on, " the fiend was right ! I see every- 
thing and know all things. You have been deceiving me ! " 

Aquilina turned cold with terror. Castanier lighted a 
candle and went into the dressing-room. The unhappy girl 
followed him in dazed bewilderment, and great was her 
astonishment when Castanier drew the dresses that hung there 
aside and disclosed the sergeant. 

" Come out, my boy," said the cashier; and, taking Leon 
by a button of his overcoat, he drew the officer into his room. 

The Piedmontese, haggard and desperate, had flung herself 
into her easy-chair. Castanier seated himself on a sofa by 
the fire, and left Aquilina's lover in a standing position. 

"You have been in the army," said Leon; " I am ready 
to give you satisfaction." 

" You are a fool," said Castanier drily. " I have no occa- 
sion to fight. I could kill you by a look if I had any mind 
to do it. I will tell you what it is, youngster; why should I 
kill you ? I can see a red line round your neck the guillo- 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 309 

tine is waiting for you. Yes, you will end in the Place de 
Greve. You are the headsman's property ! there is no escape 
for you. You belong to a vendila of the Carbonari. You are 
plotting against the government." 

"You did not tell me that," cried the Piedmontese, turn- 
ing to Leon. 

" So you do not know that the Minister decided this morn- 
ing to put down your society ? " the cashier continued. " The 
Procureur-General has a list of your names. You have been 
betrayed. They are busy drawing up the indictment at this 
moment." 

" Then was it you who betrayed him ? " cried Aquilina, and 
with a hoarse sound in her throat like the growl of a tigress 
she rose to her feet ; she seemed as if she would tear Castanier 
in pieces. 

"You know me too well to believe it," Castanier retorted. 
Aquilina was benumbed by his coolness. 

" Then how did you know it? " she murmured. 

" I did not know it until I went into the drawing-room ; 
now I know it now I see and know all things, and can do all 
things." 

The sergeant was overcome with amazement. 

"Very well then, save him, save him, dear!" cried the 
girl, flinging herself at Castanier's feet. "If nothing is 
impossible to you, save him ! I will love you, I will adore 
you, I will be your slave and not your mistress. I will obey 
your wildest whims ; you shall do as you will with me. Yes, 
yes, I will give you more than love ; you shall have a daugh- 
ter's devotion as well as Rodolphe ! why will you not 

understand ! After all, however violent my passions may be, 
I shall be yours for ever ! What should I say to persuade 

you ? I will invent pleasures 1 Great heavens ! one 

moment ! whatever you shall ask of me to fling myself from 
the window, for instance you will need to say but one word, 
' Leon ! ' and I will plunge down into hell. I would bear 



310 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

any torture, any pain of body or soul, anything you might 
inflict upon me ! " 

Castanier heard her with indifference. For all answer, he 
indicated Leon to her with a fiendish laugh. 

"The guillotine is waiting for him," he repeated. 

" No, no, no ! He shall not leave this house. I will save 
him! " she cried. "Yes; I will kill any one who lays a 
finger upon him! Why will you not save him?" she 
shrieked aloud; her eyes were blazing, her hair unbound. 
" Can you save him ? " 

"I can do everything." 

" Why do you not save him ? " 

"Why?" shouted Castanier, and his voice made the ceil- 
ing ring. " Eh ! it is my revenge ! Doing evil is my trade ! " 

"Die?" said Aquilina; "must he die, my lover. Is it 
possible ? ' ' 

She sprang up and snatched a stiletto from a basket that 
stood on the chest of drawers and went to Castanier, who 
began to laugh. 

" You know very well that steel cannot hurt me now 

Aquilina's arm suddenly dropped like a snapped harp string. 

" Out with you, my good friend," said the cashier, turning 
to the sergeant, " and go about your business." 

He held out his hand ; the other felt Castanier's superior 
power, and could not choose but obey. 

"This house is mine. I could send for the commissary of 
police if I chose, and give you up as a man who has hidden 
himself on my premises, but I would rather let you go ; I am 
a fiend, I am not a spy." 

" I shall follow him ! " said Aquilina. 

"Then follow him," returned Castanier. "Here, Jenny 



Jenny appeared. 

"Tell the porter to hail a cab for them. Here, Naqui," 
said Castanier, drawing a bundle of bank-notes from his 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 311 

pocket; "you shall not go away like a pauper from a man 
who loves you still." 

He held out three hundred thousand francs. Aquilina 
took the notes, flung them on the floor, spat on them, and 
trampled upon them in a frenzy of despair. 

"We will leave this house on foot," she cried, '' without a 
farthing of your money. Jenny, stay where you are." 

" Good-evening ! " answered the cashier, as he gathered up 
the. notes again. "I have come back from my journey. 
Jenny," he added, looking at the bewildered waiting-maid, 
"you seem to me to be a good sort of girl. You have no 
mistress now. Come here. This evening you shall have a 
master." 

Aquilina, who felt safe nowhere, went at once with the 
sergeant to the house of one of her friends. But all Leon's 
movements were suspiciously watched by the police, and after 
a time he and three of his friends were arrested. The whole 
story may be found in the newspapers of that day. 

Castanier felt that he had undergone a mental as well as a 
physical transformation. The Castanier of old no longer 
existed the boy, the young Lothario, the soldier who had 
proved his courage, who had been tricked into a marriage 
and disillusioned, the cashier, the passionate lover who had 
committed a crime for Aquilina's sake. His inmost nature 
had suddenly asserted itself. His brain had expanded, his 
senses had developed. His thoughts comprehended the whole 
world ; he saw all the things of earth as if he had been raised 
to some high pinnacle above the world. 

Until that evening at the play he had loved Aquilina to 
distraction. Rather than give her up he would have shut his 
eyes to her infidelities ; and now all that blind passion had 
passed away as a cloud vanishes in the sunlight. 

Jenny was delighted to succeed to her mistress' position 
and fortune, and did the cashier's will in all things ; but 



312 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

Castanier, who could read the inmost thoughts of the soul, 
discovered the real motive underlying this purely physical 
devotion. He amused himself with her, however, like a mis- 
chievous child who greedily sucks the juice of the cherry and 
flings away the stone. The next morning at breakfast-time, 
when she was fully convinced that she was a lady and the 
mistress of the house, Castanier uttered one by one the thoughts 
that filled her mind as she drank her coffee. 

"Do you know what you are thinking, child?" he said, 
smiling, " I will tell you: 'So all that lovely rosewood fur- 
niture that I coveted so much, and the pretty dresses that I 
used to try on, are mine now ! All on easy terms that madame 
refused, I do not know why. My word ! if I might drive 
about in a carriage, have jewels and pretty things, a box at the 
theatre, and put something by ! with me he should lead a life 
of pleasure fit to kill him if he were not as strong as a Turk ! 
I never saw such a man ! ' Was not that just what you were 
thinking," he went on, and something in his voice made 
Jenny turn pale. "Well, yes, child ; you could not stand it, 
and I am sending you away for your own good ; you would 
perish in the attempt. Come, let us part good friends," and 
he coolly dismissed her with a very small sum of money. 

The first use that Castanier had promised himself that he 
would make of the terrible power bought at the price of his 
eternal happiness was the full and complete indulgence of all 
his tastes. 

He first put his affairs in order, readily settled his account 
with M. de Nucingen, who found a worthy German to suc- 
ceed him, and then determined on a carouse worthy of the 
palmiest days of the Roman Empire. He plunged into dis- 
sipation as recklessly as Belshazzar of old went to that last feast 
in Babylon. Like Belshazzar, he saw clearly through his revels 
a gleaming hand that traced his doom in letters of flame, not 
on the narrow walls of the banqueting-chamber, but over the 
vast spaces of heaven that the rainbow spans. His feast was 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 313 

not, indeed, an orgy confined within the limits of a banquet, 
for he squandered all the powers of soul and body in exhaust- 
ing all the pleasures of earth. The table was in some sort 
earth itself, the earth that trembled beneath his feet. His was 
the last festival of the reckless spendthrift who has thrown all 
prudence to the winds. The devil had given him the key of 
the storehouse of human pleasures ; he had filled and refilled 
his hands, and he was fast nearing the bottom. In a moment 
he had felt all that that enormous power could accomplish ; in 
a moment he had exercised it, proved it, wearied of it. What 
had hitherto been the sum of human desires became as nothing. 
So often it happens that with possession the vast poetry of de- 
sire must end, and the thing possessed is seldom the thing that 
we dreamed of. 

Beneath Melmoth's omnipotence lurked this tragical anti- 
climax of so many a passion, and now the inanity of human 
nature was revealed to his successor, to whom infinite power 
brought nothingness as a dowry. 

To come to a clear understanding of Castanier's strange 
position, it must be borne in mind how suddenly these revolu- 
tions of thought and feeling had been wrought ; how quickly 
they had succeeded each other ; and of these things it is hard 
to give any idea to those who have never broken the prison 
bonds of time, and space, and distance. His relation to the 
world without had been entirely changed with the expansion 
of his faculties. 

Like Melmoth himself, Castanier could travel in a few mo- 
ments over the fertile plains of India, could soar on the wings 
of demons above African desert spaces, or skim the surface of 
the seas. The same insight that could read the inmost thoughts 
of others could apprehend at a glance the nature of any ma- 
terial object, just as he caught as it were all flavors at once 
upon his tongue. He took his pleasure like a despot ; a blow 
of the axe felled the tree that he might eat its fruits. The 
transitions, the alternations that measure joy and pain, and 



314 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

diversify human happiness, no longer existed for him. He had 
so completely glutted his appetites that pleasure must overpass 
the limits of pleasure to tickle a palate cloyed with satiety, and 
suddenly grown fastidious beyond all measure, so that ordinary 
pleasures became distasteful. Conscious that at will he was 
the master of all the women that he could desire, knowing 
that his power was irresistible, he did not care to exercise it ; 
they were pliant to his unexpressed wishes, to his most extrava- 
gant caprices, until he felt a horrible thirst for love, and would 
have love beyond their power to give. 

The world refused him nothing save faith and prayer, the 
soothing and consoling love that is not of this world. He 
was obeyed it was a horrible position. 

The torrents of pain, and pleasure, and thought that shook 
his soul and his bodily frame would have overwhelmed the 
strongest human being ; but in him there was a power of 
vitality proportioned to the power of the sensations that 
assailed him. He felt within him a vague immensity of long- 
ing that earth could not satisfy. He spent his days on out- 
spread wings, longing to traverse the luminous fields of space 
to other spheres that he knew afar by intuitive perception, a 
clear and hopeless knowledge. His soul dried up within him, 
for he hungered and thirsted after things that can neither be 
drunk nor eaten, but for which he could not choose but crave. 
His lips, like Melmoth's, burned with desire ; he panted for 
the unknown, for he knew all things. 

The mechanism and the scheme of the world was apparent 
to him, and its working interested him no longer; he did not 
long disguise the profound scorn that makes of a man of 
extraordinary powers a sphinx who knows everything and says 
nothing, and sees all things with an unmoved countenance. 
He felt not the slightest wish to communicate his knowledge 
to other men. He was rich with all the wealth of the world, 
with one effort he could make the circle of the globe, and 
riches and power were meaningless for him. He felt the 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 315 

awful melancholy of omnipotence, a melancholy which 
Satan and God relieve by the exercise of infinite power 
in mysterious ways known to them alone. Castanier had 
not, like his master, the inextinguishable energy of hate 
and malice ; he felt that he was a devil, but a devil 
whose time was not yet come, while Satan is a devil 
through all eternity, and being damned beyond redemption 
delights to stir up the world, like a dung-heap, with his 
triple fork and to thwart therein the designs of God. But 
Castanier, for his misfortune, had one hope left. 

If in a moment he could move from one pole to the other 
as a bird springs restlessly from side to side in its cage, when, 
like the bird, he had crossed his prison, he saw the vast im- 
mensity of space beyond it. That vision of the Infinite left 
him for ever unable to see humanity and its affairs as other 
men saw them. The insensate fools who long for the power 
of the devil gauge its desirability from a human standpoint ; 
they do not see that with the devil's power they will likewise 
assume his thoughts, and that they will be doomed to remain 
as men among creatures who will no longer understand them. 
The Nero unknown to history who dreams of setting Paris on 
fire for his private entertainment, like an exhibition of a 
burning house on the boards of a theatre, does not suspect 
that, if he had that power, Paris would become for him as little 
interesting as an ant-heap by the roadside to a hurrying 
passer-by. The circle of the sciences was for Castanier 
something like a logogriph for a man who does not know the 
key to it. Kings and governments were despicable in his 
eyes. His great debauch had been in some sort a deplorable 
farewell to his life as a man. The earth had grown too nar- 
row for him, for the infernal gifts laid bare for him the secrets 
of creation he saw the cause and foresaw its end. He was 
shut out from all .that men call "heaven" in all languages 
under the sun ; he could no longer think of heaven. 

Then he came to understand the look on his predecessor's 



316 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

face and the drying up of the life within ; then he knew all 
that was meant by the baffled hope that gleamed in Melmoth's 
eyes ; he, too, knew the thirst that burned those red lips, and 
the agony of a continual struggle between two natures grown 
to giant size. Even yet he might be an angel, and he knew 
himself to be a fiend. His was the fate of a sweet and gentle 
creature that a wizard's malice has imprisoned in a misshapen 
form, entrapping it by a pact, so that another's will must set 
it free from its detested envelope. 

As a deception only increases the ardor with which a man 
of really great nature explores the infinite of sentiment in a 
woman's heart, so Castanier awoke to find that one idea lay 
like a weight upon his soul, an idea which was perhaps the 
key to loftier spheres. The very fact that he had bartered 
away his eternal happiness led him to dwell in thought upon 
the future of those who pray and believe. On the morrow of 
his debauch, when he entered into the sober possession of his 
power, this idea made him feel himself a prisoner ; lie knew 
the burden of the woe that poets, and prophets, and great 
oracles of faith have set forth for us in such mighty words ; 
he felt the point of the flaming sword plunged into his side, 
and hurried in search of Melmoth. What had become of his 
predecessor ? 

The Englishman was living in a mansion in the Rue Ferou, 
near Saint-Sulpice a gloomy, dark, damp, and cold abode. 
The Rue Frou itself is one of the most dismal streets in 
Paris; it has a rorth aspect like all the streets that lie at right 
angles to the left bank of the Seine, and the houses are in 
keeping with the site. As Castanier stood on the threshold 
he found that the door itself, like the vaulted roof, was 
hung with black; rows of lighted tapers shone brilliantly 
as though some king were lying in state ; and a priest stood 
on either side of a catafalque that had been raised there. 

" There is no need to ask why you have come, sir," the 
old hall porter said to Castanier ; " you are so like our poor 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 317 

dear master that is gone. But if you are his brother, you 
have come too late to bid him good-bye. The good gentle- 
man died the night before last." 

" How did he die ? " Castanier asked of one of the priests. 

"Set your mind at rest," said an old priest; he partly 
raised as he spoke the black pall that covered the catafalque. 

Castanier, looking at him, saw one of those faces that 
faith has made sublime ; the soul seemed to shine forth from 
every line of it, bringing light and warmth for other men, 
kindled by the unfailing charity within. This was Sir John 
Melmoth's confessor. 

" Your brother made an end that men may envy, and that 
must rejoice the angels. Do you know what joy there is in 
heaven over a sinner that repents ? His tears of penitence, 
excited by grace, flowed without ceasing ; death alone checked 
them. The Holy Spirit dwelt in him. His burning words, 
full of lively faith, were worthy of the Prophet-King. If, 
in the course of my life, I have never heard a more dread- 
ful confession than from the lips of this English gentleman, I 
have likewise never heard such fervent and passionate prayers. 
However great the measures of his sins may have been, his 
repentance has filled the abyss to overflowing. The hand of 
God was visibly stretched out above him, for he was com- 
pletely changed, there was such heavenly beauty in his face. 
The hard eyes were softened by tears ; the resonant voice that 
struck terror into those who heard it took the tender and com- 
passionate tones of those who themselves have passed through 
deep humiliation. He so edified those who heard his words 
that some who had felt drawn to see the spectacle of a Chris- 
tian's death fell on their knees as he spoke of heavenly things, 
and of the infinite glory of God, and gave thanks and praise 
to Him. If he is leaving no worldly wealth to his family, 
no family can possess a greater blessing than this that he 
surely gained for them, a soul among the blessed, who will 
watch over you all and direct you in the path to heaven." 



318 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

These words made such a vivid impression upon Castanier 
that he instantly hurried from the house to the Church of 
Saint-Sulpice, obeying what might be called a decree of fate. 
Melmoth's repentance had stupefied him. 

At that time, on certain mornings in the week, a preacher, 
famed for his eloquence, was wont to hold conferences, in the 
course of which he demonstrated the truths of the Catholic 
faith for the youth of a generation proclaimed to be indiffer- 
ent in matters of belief by another voice no less eloquent 
than his own. The conference had been put off to a later hour 
on account of Melmoth's funeral, so Castanier arrived just as the 
great preacher was epitomizing the proofs of a future existence 
of happiness with all the charm of eloquence and force of expres- 
sion which have made him famous. The seeds of divine doctrine 
fell into a soil prepared for them in the old dragoon, into whom 
the devil had glided. Indeed, if there is a phenomenon well 
attested by experience, is it not the spiritual phenomenon 
commonly called the " faith of the peasant?" The strength 
of belief varies inversely with the amount of use that a man 
has made of his reasoning faculties. Simple people and soldiers 
belong to the unreasoning class. Those who have marched 
through life beneath the banner of instinct are far more ready 
to receive the light than minds and hearts overwearied with the 
world's sophistries. 

Castanier had a southern temperament ; he had joined the 
army as a lad of sixteen, and had followed the French flag 
till he was nearly forty years old. As a common trooper, he 
had fought day and night, and day after day, and, as in duty 
bound, had thought of his horse first, and of himself after- 
wards. While he served his military apprenticeship, there- 
fore, he had but little leisure in which to reflect on the destiny 
of man, and when he became an officer he had his men to 
think of. He had been swept from battlefield to battlefield, 
but he had never thought of what comes after death. A 
soldier's life does not demand much thinking. Those who 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 319 

cannot understand the lofty political ends involved and the 
interests of nation and nation ; who cannot grasp political 
schemes as well as plans of campaign, and combine the science 
of the tactician with that of the administrator, are bound to 
live in a state of ignorance ; the most boorish peasant in the 
most backward district in France is scarcely in a worse 
case. Such men as these bear the brunt of war, yield passive 
obedience to the brain that directs them, and strike down the 
men opposed to them as the woodcutter fells timber in the 
forest. Violent physical exertion is succeeded by times of 
inertia, when they repair the waste. They fight and drink, 
fight and eat, fight and sleep, that they may the better deal 
hard blows ; the powers of the mind are not greatly exercised 
in this turbulent round of existence, and the character is as 
simple as heretofore. 

When the men who have shown such energy on the battle- 
field return to ordinary civilization, most of those who have 
not risen to high rank seem to have acquired no ideas, and to 
have no aptitude, no capacity, for grasping new ideas. To 
the utter amazement of a younger generation, those who made 
our armies so glorious and so terrible are as simple as children, 
and as slow-witted as a clerk at his worst, and the captain of 
a thundering squadron is scarcely fit to keep a merchant's 
day-book. Old soldiers of this stamp, therefore, being inno- 
cent of any attempt to use their reasoning faculties, act upon 
their strongest impulses. Castanier's crime was one of those 
matters that raise so many questions, that, in order to debate 
about it, a moralist might call for its " discussion by clauses," 
to make use of a parliamentary expression. 

Passion had counseled the crime; the cruelly irresistible 
power of feminine witchery had driven him to commit it; no 
man can say of himself, "I will never do that," when a siren 
joins in the combat and throws her spells over him. 

So the word of life fell upon a conscience newly awakened 
to the truths of religion which the French Revolution and a 



320 MEL MOTH RECONCILED. 

soldier's career had forced Castanier to neglect. The solemn 
words, "You will be happy or miserable for all eternity!" 
made but the more terrible impression upon him, because he 
had exhausted earth and shaken it like a barren tree ; because 
his desires could effect all things, so that it was enough that 
any spot in earth or heaven should be forbidden him, and he 
forthwith thought of nothing else. If it were allowable to 
compare such great things with social follies, Castanier's po- 
sition was not unlike that of a banker who, finding that his 
all-powerful millions cannot obtain for him an entrance into 
the society of the noblesse, must set his heart upon entering 
that circle, and all the social privileges that he has already 
acquired are as nothing in his eyes from the moment wiien he 
discovers that a single one is lacking. 

Here was a man more powerful than all the kings on earth 
put together ; a man who, like Satan, could wrestle with God 
Himself; leaning against one of the pillars in the Church of 
Saint-Sulpice, weighed down by the feelings and thoughts that 
oppressed him, and absorbed in the thought of a future, the 
same thought that had engulfed Melmoth. 

"He was very happy, was Melmoth!" cried Castanier. 
" He died in the certain knowledge that he would go to 
heaven." 

In a moment the greatest possible change had been wrought 
in the cashier's ideas. For several days he had been a devil, 
now he was nothing but a man ; an image of the fallen Adam, 
of the sacred tradition embodied in all cosmogonies. But 
while he had thus shrunk to man's estate he retained a germ 
of greatness, he had been steeped in the Infinite. The power 
of hell had revealed the divine power. He thirsted for heaven 
as he had never thirsted after the pleasures of earth, that are 
so soon exhausted. The enjoyments which the fiend promises 
are but the enjoyments of earth on a larger scale, but to the 
joys of heaven there is no limit. He believed in God, and 
the spell that gave him the treasures of the world was as 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 321 

nothing to him now ; the treasures themselves seemed to him 
as contemptible as pebbles to an admirer of diamonds ; they 
were but gewgaws compared with the eternal glories of the 
other life. A curse lay, he thought, on all things that came 
to him from this source. He sounded dark depths of painful 
thought as he listened to the service performed for Melmoth. 
The Dies ires filled him with awe; he felt all the grandeur of 
that cry of a repentant soul trembling before the throne of 
God. The Holy Spirit, like a devouring flame, passed through 
him as fire consumes straw. 

The tears were falling from his eyes when " Are you a re- 
lation of the dead?" the beadle asked him. 

" I am his heir," Castanier answered. 

" Give something for the expenses of the services ! " cried 
the man. 

" No," said the cashier. (The devil's money should not go 
to the church.) 

"For the poor! " 

"No." 

" For repairing the church ! " 

"No." 

" The Lady Chapel ! " 

" No." 

" For the schools ! " 

"No." 

Castanier went, not caring to expose himself to the sour 
looks that the irritated functionaries gave him. 

Outside, in the street, he looked up at the Church of 
Saint-Sulpice. " What made people build the giant cathe- 
drals I have seen in every country ? " he asked himself. " The 
feeling shared so widely throughout all time must surely be 
based upon something." 

"Something! Do you call God something?'' 1 cried his 
conscience. " God ! God ! God ! " 

The word was echoed and re-echoed by an inner voice, till 
21 



322 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

it overwhelmed him ; but his feeling of terror subsided as he 
heard sweet distant sounds of music that he had caught faintly 
before. They were singing in the church, he thought, and 
his eyes scanned the great doorway. But as he listened more 
closely, the sounds poured upon him from all sides; he 
looked round the square, but there was no sign of any musi- 
cians. The melody brought visions of a distant heaven and 
far-off gleams of hope ; but it also quickened the remorse that 
had set the lost soul in a ferment. He went on his way 
through Paris, walking as men walk who are crushed beneath 
the burden of their sorrow, seeing everything with unseeing 
eyes, loitering like an idler, stopping without cause, mutter- 
ing to himself, careless of the traffic, making no effort to 
avoid a blow from a plank of timber. 

Imperceptibly repentance brought him under the influence 
of the divine grace that soothes while it bruises the heart so 
terribly. His face came to wear a look of Melmoth, some- 
thing great, with a trace of madness in the greatness. A 
look of dull and hopeless distress, mingled with the excited 
eagerness of hope, and, beneath it all, a gnawing sense of 
loathing for all that the world can give. The humblest of 
prayers lurked in the eyes that saw with such dreadful clear- 
ness. His power was the measure of his anguish. His body 
was bowed down by the fearful storm that shook his soul, as 
the tall pines bend before the blast. Like his predecessor, he 
could not refuse to bear the burden of life ; he was afraid to die 
while he bore the yoke of hell. The torment grew intolerable. 
At last, one morning, he bethought himself how that Mel- 
moth (now among the blessed) had made the proposal of an 
exchange, and how that he had accepted it ; others, doubt- 
less, would follow his example ; for in an age proclaimed, by 
the inheritors of the eloquence of the Fathers of the Church, 
to be fatally indifferent to religion, it should be easy to find a 
man who would accept the conditions of the contract in order 
to prove its advantages. 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 323 

" There is one place where you can learn what kings will 
fetch in the market ; where nations are weighed in the balance 
and systems appraised ; where the value of a government is 
stated in terms of the five-franc piece ; where ideas and 
beliefs have their price, and everything is discounted ; where 
God Himself, in a manner, borrows on the security of His 
revenue of souls, for the Pope has a running account there. 
Is it not there that I should go to traffic in souls ? " 

Castanier went quite joyously on 'Change, thinking that it 
would be as easy to buy a soul as to invest money in the 
" Funds." Any ordinary person would have feared ridicule, 
but Castanier knew by experience .that a desperate man takes 
everything seriously. A prisoner lying under sentence of 
death would listen to the madman who should tell him that 
by pronouncing some gibberish he could escape through the 
keyhole ; for suffering is credulous, and clings to an idea until 
it fails, as the swimmer borne along by the current clings to 
the branch that snaps in his hand. 

Towards four o'clock that afternoon Castanier appeared 
among the little knots of men who were transacting private 
business after 'Change. He was personally known to some of 
the brokers; and while affecting to be in search of an 
acquaintance, he managed to pick up the current gossip and 
rumors of failure. 

" Catch me negotiating bills for Claparon & Co., my boy. 
The bank collector went round to return their acceptances to 
them this morning," said a fat banker in his outspoken way. 
" If you have any of their paper, lookout ! " 

Claparon was in the building, in deep consultation with a 
man well known for the ruinous rate at which he loaned money. 
Castanier went forthwith in search of the said Claparon, a 
merchant who had a reputation for taking heavy risks that 
meant wealth or utter ruin. The money-lender walked away 
as Castanier came up. A gesture betrayed the speculator's 
despair. 



324 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

" Well, Claparon, the bank wants a hundred thousand francs 
of you, and it is four o'clock ; the thing is known, and it is 
too late to arrange your little failure comfortably," said Cas- 
tanier. 

"Sir!" 

" Speak lower," the cashier went on. " How if I were to 
propose a piece of business that would bring you in as much 
money as you require ? " 

" It would not discharge my liabilities ; every business that 
I ever heard of wants a little time to simmer in." 

" I know of something that will set you straight in a mo- 
ment," answered Castanier ; " but first you would have to " 

"Do what?" 

" Sell your share of paradise. It is a matter of business like 
anything else, isn't it ? We all hold shares in the great specu- 
lation of eternity." 

" I tell you this," said Claparon angrily, " that I am just 
the man to lend you a slap in the face. When a man is in 
trouble, it is no time to play silly jokes on him." 

"I am talking seriously," said Castanier, and he drew a 
bundle of notes from his pocket. 

" In the first place," said Claparon, " I am not going to 
sell my soul to the devil for a trifle. I want five hundred thou- 
sand francs before I strike ' ' 

"Who talks of stinting you?" asked Castanier, cutting 
him short. "You should have more gold than you could 
stow in the cellars of the Bank of France." 

He held out a handful of notes. That decided Claparon. 
" Done," he cried ; " but how is the bargain to be made ? " 

" Let us go over yonder, no one is standing there," said 
Castanier, pointing to a corner of the court. 

Claparon and his tempter exchanged a few words, with their 
faces turned to the wall. None of the onlookers guessed the 
nature of this by-play, though their curiosity was keenly ex- 
cited by the strange gestures of the two contracting parties. 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 325 

When Castanier returned, there was a sudden outburst of 
amazed exclamation. As in the assembly where the least 
event immediately attracts attention, all faces were turned to 
the two men who had caused the sensation, and a shiver 
passed through all beholders at the change that had taken 
place in them. 

The men who form the moving crowd that fills the Stock 
Exchange are soon known to each other by sight. They 
watch each other like players round a card-table. Some 
shrewd observers can tell how a man will play and the condi- 
tion of his exchequer from a survey of his face ; and the Stock 
Exchange is simply a vast card-table. Every one, therefore, 
had noticed Claparon and Castanier. The latter (like the 
Englishman before him) had been muscular and powerful, his 
eyes were full of light, his color high. The dignity and 
power in his face had struck awe into them all ; they won- 
dered how old Castanier had come by it ; and now they beheld 
Castanier divested of his power, shrunken, wrinkled, aged, and 
feeble. He had drawn Claparon out of the crowd with the 
energy of a sick man in a fever fit ; he had looked like an 
opium-eater during the brief period of excitement that the drug 
can give ; now, on his return, he seemed to be in the condi- 
tion of utter exhaustion in which the patient dies after the 
fever departs, or to be suffering from the horrible prostration 
that follows an excessive indulgence in the delights of nar- 
cotics. The infernal power that had upheld him through his 
debauches had left him, and the body was left unaided and 
alone to endure the agony of remorse and the heavy burden 
of sincere repentance. Claparon's troubles every one could 
guess ; but Claparon reappeared, on the other hand, with 
sparkling eyes, holding his head high with the pride of Lu- 
cifer. The crisis had passed from the one man to the other. 

"Now you can drop off with an easy mind, old man," 
said Claparon to Castanier. 

" For pity's sake, send for a cab and for a priest ', send for 



326 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

the curate of Saint-Sulpice ! " answered the old dragoon, 
sinking down upon the curbstone. 

The words " a priest " reached the ears of several people, 
and produced uproarious jeering among the stockbrokers, for 
faith with these gentlemen means a belief that a scrap of 
paper called a mortgage represents an estate, and the list of 
fundholders is their Bible. 

" Shall I have time to repent?" said Castanier to himself 
in a piteous voice, that impressed Claparon. 

A cab carried away the dying man ; the speculator went to 
the bank at once to meet his bills ; and the momentary sensa- 
tion produced upon the throng of business men by the sudden 
change on the two faces vanished like the furrow cut by a 
ship's keel in the sea. News of the greatest importance kept 
the attention of the world of commerce on the alert ; and 
when commercial interests are at stake, Moses might appear 
with his two luminous horns, and his coming would scarcely 
receive the honors of a pun ; the gentleman whose business it 
is to write the market reports would ignore his existence. 

When Claparon had made his payments, fear seized upon 
him. There was no mistake about his power. He went on 
'Change again, and offered his bargain to other men in em- 
barrassed circumstances. The devil's bond, " together with 
the rights, easements, and privileges appertaining thereunto" 
to use the expression of the notary who succeeded Claparon 
changed hands for the sum of seven hundred thousand francs. 
The notary in his, turn parted with the agreement with the 
devil for five hundred thousand francs to a building con- 
tractor in difficulties, who likewise got rid of it to an iron 
merchant in consideration of a hundred thousand crowns. 
In fact, by five o'clock people had ceased to believe in the 
strange contract, and purchasers were lacking for want of 
confidence. 

At half- past five the holder of the bond was a house-painter, 
who was lounging by the door of the building in the Rue 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 327 

Feydeau, where at that time stockbrokers temporarily congre- 
gated. The house-painter, simple fellow, could not think 
what was the matter with him. He " felt all anyhow," so he 
told his wife when he went home. 

The Rue Feydeau, as idlers about town are aware, is a 
place of pilgrimage for youths who for lack of a mistress 
bestow their ardent affection upon the whole sex. On the 
first floor of the most rigidly respectable domicile therein 
dwelt one of those exquisite creatures whom it has pleased 
heaven to endow with the rarest and most surpassing beauty. 
As it is impossible that they should all be duchesses or 
queens (since there are many more pretty women in the world 
than titles and thrones for them to adorn), they are content 
to make a stockbroker or a banker happy at a fixed price. To 
this good-natured beauty, Euphrasia by name, an unbounded 
ambition had led a notary's clerk to aspire. In short, the 
second clerk in the office of Maitre Crottat, notary, had fallen 
in love with her, as youth at two-and-twenty can fall in love. 
The scrivener would have murdered the Pope and run amuck 
through the whole sacred college to procure the miserable 
sum of a hundred louis to pay for a shawl which had turned 
Euphrasia's head, at which price her waiting-woman had 
promised that Euphrasia should be his. The infatuated youth 
walked to and fro under Madame Euphrasia's windows, 
like the polar bears in their cage at the Jardin des Plantes, 
with his right hand thrust beneath his waistcoat in the region 
of the heart, which he was fit to tear from his bosom, but as 
yet he had only wrenched at the elastic of his braces. 

" What can one do to raise ten thousand francs? " he asked 
himself. "Shall I make off with the money that I must pay 
on the registration of that conveyance ? Good heavens ! my 
loan would not ruin the purchaser, a man with seven millions ! 
And then next day I would fling myself at his feet and say, 
' I have taken ten thousand francs belonging to you, sir ; I 
am twenty-two years of age, and I am in love with Euphrasia 



323 MELMOTH RECONCILED. 

that is my story. My father is rich, he will pay you back ; 
do not ruin me ! Have you not yourself been twenty-two 
years old and madly in love ? ' But these beggarly land- 
owners have no souls ! He would be quite likely to give me 
up to the public prosecutor, instead of taking pity upon me. 
Good God ! if it were only possible to sell your soul to the 
devil ! But there is neither a God nor a devil ; it is all non- 
sense out of nursery tales and old wives' talk. What shall 
Ido?" 

"If you have a mind to sell your soul to the devil, sir," 
said the house-painter, who had overheard something that the 
clerk let fall, " you can have the ten thousand francs." 

"And Euphrasia ! " cried the clerk, as he struck a bargain 
with the devil that inhabited the house-painter. 

The pact concluded, the frantic clerk went to find the 
shawl, and mounted Madame Euphrasia's staircase ; and as 
(literally) the devil was in him, he did not come down for 
twelve days, drowning the thought of hell and of his privi- 
leges in twelve days of love and riot and forget fulness, for 
which he had bartered away all his hopes of a paradise to 
come. 

And in this way the secret of the vast power discovered 
and acquired by the Englishman, the offspring of Mathurin's 
brain, was lost to mankind ; and the various Orientalists, 
mystics, and archaeologists who take an interest in these 
matters were unable to hand down to posterity the proper 
method of invoking the devil, for the following sufficient 
reasons : 

On the thirteenth day after these frenzied nuptials the 
wretched clerk lay on a pallet bed in a garret in his master's 
house in the Rue Saint-Honor6. Shame, the stupid goddess 
who dares not behold herself, had taken possession of the 
young man. He had fallen ill ; he would nurse himself; 
misjudged the quantity of a remedy devised by the skill of a 
practitioner well known on the walls of Paris, and succumbed 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 329 

to the effects of an overdose of mercury. His corpse was as 
black as a mole's back. A devil had left unmistakable traces 
of its passage there ; could it have been Ashtaroth ? 

"The estimable youth to whom you refer has been carried 
away to the planet Mercury," said the head clerk to a German 
demonologist who came to investigate the matter at first hand. 

"I am quite prepared to believe it," answered the Teuton. 

"Oh!" 

" Yes, sir," returned the other. " The opinion you advance 
coincides with the very words of Jacob Boehme. In the 
forty-eighth proposition of ' The Threefold Life of Man/ 
he says that ' if God hath brought all things to pass with a 
LET THERE BE, the FIAT is the secret matrix which compre- 
hends and apprehends the nature which is> formed by the 
spirit born of Mercury and of God.' " 

" What do you say, sir ? " 

The German delivered his quotation afresh. 

" We do not know it," said the clerks. 

" Fiat ? ' ' said the clerk. " Fiat lux ! ' ' 

"You can verify the citation for yourselves," said the 
German. "You will find the passage in the 'Treatise of the 
Threefold Life of Man,' page 75; the edition was published 
by M. Mignaret in 1809. It was translated into French by a 
philosopher who had a great admiration for the famous shoe- 
maker." 

" Oh ! he was a shoemaker, was he ? " said the head clerk. 

"In Prussia," said the German. 

" Did he work for the King of Prussia? " inquired a Boeo- 
tian of a second clerk. 

" He must have vamped up his prose," said a third. 

" That man is colossal," cried the fourth, pointing to the 
Teuton. 

That gentleman, though a demonologist of the first rank, 
did not know the amount of deviltry to be found in a 



330 



MELMOTH RECONCILED. 



notary's clerk. He went away without the least idea that 
they were making game of him, and fully under the impres- 
sion that the young fellows regarded Boehme as a colossal 
genius. 

" Education is making strides in France," said he to him- 
self. 

PARIS, May 6, 1835. 




THE RED HOUSE. 

(L? Aubergc rouge.} 
To Monsieur le Marquis de Custine. 

ONCE upon a time (I forget the exact year) a Parisian 
banker, who had very extensive business relations with Ger- 
many, gave a dinner party in honor of one of the friends that 
merchants make in this place and that by correspondence, a 
sort of friendship that subsists for a long while between men 
who have never met. The friend, the senior partner of some 
considerable firm in Nuremberg, was a stout, good-natured 
German, a man of learning and of taste, more particularly in 
the matter of tobacco pipes. He was a typical Nuremberger, 
with a pleasant, broad countenance and a massive, square 
forehead, with a few stray fair hairs here and there ; a typical 
German, a son of the stainless and noble Fatherland, so fer- 
tile in honorable characters, preserving its manners uncor- 
rupted even after seven invasions. The stranger laughed 
simply, listened attentively, and drank with marked enjoy- 
ment, seeming to like champagne perhaps as well as the pale 
red wines of the Johannisberg. Like nearly every German in 
nearly every book, he was named Hermann ; and in the 
quality of a man who does nothing with levity, he was com- 
fortably seated at the banker's table, eating his way through 
the dinner with the Teutonic appetite renowned all over 
Europe, and thorough indeed was his manner of bidding adieu 
to all the works of the great Carme. 

The master of the house had invited several intimate 
friends to do honor to his guest. These were for the most part 
capitalists or merchants, interspersed with a few pretty and 
agreeable women, whose light, graceful talk and frank manner 

(331) 



332 THE RED HOUSE. 

harmonized with German openheartedness. And, indeed, if 
you could have seen, as I had the pleasure of seeing, this 
blithe gathering of folk who had sheathed the active claws 
employed in raking-in wealth, that they might make the best 
of an opportunity of enjoying the pleasures of life, you would 
scarcely have found it in your heart to grudge high rates of 
interest or to revile defaulters. A man cannot always be in 
mischief. Even in the society of pirates, for instance, there 
must surely be a pleasant hour now and then when you may 
feel at your ease beneath the black flag. 

" Oh, I do hope that before M. Hermann goes he will tell 
us another dreadful, thrilling German story ! " 

The words were uttered over the dessert by a pale, fair- 
haired young lady, who had doubtless been reading Hoff- 
mann's tales and Sir Walter Scott's novels. She was the 
banker's only daughter, an irresistibly charming girl, whose 
education was being finished at the Gymnase ; she was wild 
about the plays given there. The dinner party had just 
reached the period of lazy content and serene disinclination 
to talk that succeeds an excellent dinner in the course of 
which somewhat heavy demands have been made upon the 
digestion ; when the guests lean back in their chairs and play 
idly with the gilded knife-blades, while their wrists repose 
lightly on the table edge; the period of decline when some 
torment apple pips, or knead a crumb of bread between 
thumb and finger, when the sentimental write illegible initials 
among the debris of the dessert, and the penurious count the 
stones on their plates, and arrange them round the edge, as a 
playwright marshals the supernumeraries at the back of the 
stage. These are minor gastronomical pleasures which Brillat- 
Savarin has passed over unnoticed, exhaustively as he has 
treated his subject in other respects. 

The servants had disappeared. The dessert, like a squadron 
after an action, was quite disorganized, disarrayed, forlorn. In 
spite of persistent efforts on the part of the mistress of the 



THE RED HOUSE. 333 

house, the various dishes strayed about the table. People 
fixed their eyes on the Swiss views that adorned the gray walls 
of the dining-room. No one felt it tedious. The man has 
yet to be found who can mope while he digests a good dinner. 
At that time we like to sit steeped in an indescribable calm, a 
sort of golden mean between the two extremes of the thinker's 
musings and the sleek content of the ruminating brute, 
which should be termed the physical melancholy of gastro- 
nomy. 

So the party turned spontaneously towards the worthy Ger- 
man, all of them delighted to listen to a tale, even if it should 
be a dull one. During this beatific pause, the mere sound of 
the voice of the one who tells the story is soothing to our 
languid senses; it is one more aid to passive enjoyment. 
As an amateur of pictures, I watched the faces, bright with 
smiles, lit up by the light of the tapers and flushed with 
good-cheer ; the different expressions produced piquant effects 
among the sconces, the porcelain baskets of fruit, and the 
crystal glasses. 

One face, exactly opposite, particularly struck my imagina- 
tion. It belonged to a middle-sized man, tolerably stout and 
jovial-looking ; who, from his manner and appearance, seemed 
to be a stockbroker, and, so far as one could see, gifted with 
no extraordinary amount of brains. Hitherto I had not 
noticed him, but at that moment his face, obscured, to be sure, 
by a bad light, seemed to me to undergo a total change ; it took 
a cadaverous hue, veined with purple streaks. You might have 
taken it for the ghastly countenance of a man in the death agony. 
Impassive as a painted figure in a diorama, he was staring 
stupidly at the facets of a crystal decanter-stopper, but he 
certainly took no heed of them ; he seemed to be deep in 
some visionary contemplation of the future or of the past. 
A long scrutiny of this dubious-looking face made me think. 

"Is he ill?" I asked myself. "Has he taken too much 
wine ? Is he ruined by the fall of the funds ? Is he thinking 



334 THE RED HOUSE. 

how to cheat his creditors? Look ! " I said to a lady who sat 
next to me, calling her attention to the stranger's face, " that 
is a budding bankruptcy, is it not? " 

"Oh ! " she answered, " if it were, he would be in better 
spirits." Then, with a graceful toss of her head, she added : 
"If that individual ever ruins himself, I will take the news to 
Pekin myself. He is a rather eccentric old gentleman worth 
a million in real estate ; he used to be a contractor to the im- 
perial armies. He married again as a business speculation, but 
he makes his wife very happy for all that. He has a pretty 
daughter, whom for a very long time he would not recognize ; 
but when his son died by a sad accident in a duel, he was 
obliged to take her home, for he was not likely to have any 
more children. So all at once the poor girl became one of 
the richest heiresses in Paris. The loss of his only son threw 
the poor dear man into great grief, and he still shows signs of 
it at times." 

As she spoke the army-contractor looked up, and our eyes 
met; his expression made me shudder, it was so gloomy and 
so sad. Assuredly a whole life was summed up in that glance. 
Then in a moment he looked cheerful. He took up the glass 
stopper, put it unthinkingly into the mouth of the water de- 
canter that stood on the table in front of him, and turned 
smilingly towards M. Hermann. The man was positively 
beaming with full-fed content, and had, no doubt, not two 
ideas in his head ; he had been thinking of nothing ! I was 
to some extent ashamed to have thrown away my powers of 
divination in anima vili, to have taken this thick-skulled 
capitalist as a subject. But while I was making my phreno- 
logical observations in pure waste, the good-natured German 
had flicked a few grains of snuff off his face and begun his 
story. 

It would be a somewhat difficult matter to give it in the same 
words, with his not infrequent interruptions and wordy digres- 
sions ; so I have written it after my own fashion, omitting 



THE RED HOUSE. 335 

these defects of the Nuremberger's narrative, and helping my- 
self to such elements of poetry and interest as it may possess, 
emulating the modesty of other writers who omit the formula: 
"Translated from the German," from their title-pages. 



I. THE IDEA AND THE DEED. 

" Towards the end of Vendemiaire, in the year VII. of the 
Republican era (a date that corresponds to the 2oth of Octo- 
ber, present style), two young men were making their way 
towards Andernach, a little town on the left bank of the 
Rhine, a few leagues from Coblentz. The travelers had set 
out from Bonn that morning, and now the day was drawing 
to a close. At that particular time a French army under com- 
mand of General Augereau was keeping in check the Austrians 
on the right bank of the river. The headquarters of the 
Republican division were at Coblentz, and one of the demi- 
brigades belonging to Augereau's corps was quartered in 
Andernach. 

"The two wayfarers were Frenchmen. At first sight of 
their blue and white uniforms, with red velvet facings, their 
sabres, and, above all, their caps covered with green oilcloth 
and adorned with a tricolor cockade, the German peasants 
themselves might have known them for a pair of army sur- 
geons, men of science and of sterling worth, popular for the 
most part not only in the army, but also in the countries 
occupied by French troops. At that time many young men 
of good family, torn from their medical studies by General 
Jourdan's conscription law, not unnaturally preferred to con- 
tinue their studies on the battlefield to compulsory service in 
the ranks, a life ill suited to their antecedents and unwarlike 
ambitions. Men of this stamp, studious, serviceable, peace- 
ably inclined, did some good among so many evils, and found 



336 THE RED HOUSE. 

congenial spirits among the learned of the various countries 
invaded by the ruthless affranchisement of the Republic. 

" These two, provided with a route of the road, and with 
assistant surgeons' commissions signed by La Coste and Berna- 
dotte, were on their way to join the demi-brigade to which 
they were attached. Both belonged to well-to-do families in 
Beauvais, and traditions of gentle breeding and of provincial 
integrity had been a part of their inheritance. A curiosity 
quite natural in youth had brought them to the seat of war 
before the time fixed for entrance on active service, and they 
had come by the diligence as far as Strasbourg. Maternal 
prudence had suffered them to leave home with a very scanty 
supply of money, but they felt rich in the possession of a few 
louis ; and, indeed, at a time when assignats had reached the 
lowest point of depreciation, those few louis meant wealth, for 
gold was at a high premium. 

"The two assistant surgeons, aged twenty years at most, 
gave themselves up to the romance of their situation with all 
the enthusiasm of youth. They had traversed the Palatinate 
from Strasbourg to Bonn in the quality of artists, philosophers, 
and observers. When we have a scientific career before us, 
there are, in truth, at that age many natures within us ; and 
even while making love or traveling about, an assistant surgeon 
should be laying the foundations of his future fame and for- 
tune. Accordingly, the pair had been carried away by the 
profound admiration that every well-read man must feel at the 
sight of the scenery of Swabia and the banks of the Rhine 
between Mayence and Cologne. They saw a vigorous and 
fertile country, an undulating green landscape full of strong 
contrasts and memories of feudal times, and everywhere 
scarred by fire and sword. Louis XIV. and Turenne once 
before laid that fair land in ashes ; heaps of ruins bear witness 
to the pride, or, it may be, to the prudence of the monarch 
of Versailles, who rased the wonderful castles which once were 
the glory of this part of Germany. You arrive at some con- 



THE RED HOUSE. 337 

ception of the German mind ; you understand its dreaminess 
and its mysticism from this wonderful forest-land of theirs, full 
of remains of the middle ages, picturesque, albeit in ruins. 

"The two friends had made some stay in Bonn with two 
objects in view scientific knowledge and pleasure. The grand 
hospital of the Gallo-Batavian army and of Augereau's divi- 
sion had been established in the Electoral palace itself, and 
thither the two novices had gone to see their comrades, to 
deliver letters of recommendation to their chiefs, and to make 
their first acquaintance with the life of army surgeons. But 
with the new impressions, there as elsewhere, they parted 
with some of their national prejudices, and discovered that 
France had no monopoly of beautiful public buildings and 
landscapes. The marble columns that adorn the Electoral pal- 
ace took them by surprise ; they admired the magnificence of 
German architecture and found fresh treasures of ancient and 
modern art at every step. 

" Now and again in the course of their wanderings towards 
Andernach their way led them over some higher peak among 
the granite hills. Through a clear space in the forest, or a 
chasm in the rocks, they caught a glimpse of the Rhine, a 
picture framed in the gray stone, or in some setting of lux- 
uriant trails of green leaves. Every valley, field-path, and 
forest was filled with autumn scents that conduce to musings 
and with signs of the aging of the year ; the tree-tops were 
turning golden, taking warmer hues and shades of brown ; 
the leaves were falling, but the sky was blue and cloudless 
overhead ; the roads were dry, and shone like threads of gold 
across the country in the late afternoon sunlight. 

" Haifa league from Andernach, the country through which 
the two friends were traveling lay in a silence as deep as if 
there were no war laying waste the beautiful land. They were 
following a goat track among the steep crags of bluish granite 
that rise like walls above the eddying Rhine, and before very 
long were descending the sloping sides of the ravine above 
22 



338 THE RED HOUSE. 

the little town, nestling coyly at its foot on the river bank, 
its picturesque quay for the Rhine boatmen. 

" ' Germany is a very beautiful country ! ' cried one of the 
two, Prosper Magnan by name, as he caught sight of the 
painted houses of Andernach lying close together like eggs 
in a basket, among the trees and flower-gardens. 

"For a few minutes they looked at the high-pitched roofs 
with their projecting beams, at the balconies and wooden 
staircases of all those peaceful dwellings, and at the boats 
swaying in the currents by the quay." 

When M. Hermann mentioned the name of Prosper Mag- 
nan, my opposite neighbor, the army-contractor, snatched up 
the decanter, poured himself out a glass of water, and drank 
it down at a gulp. This proceeding called my attention to 
him ; I thought I saw a slight quiver in his hands and a trace 
of perspiration on his forehead. 

"What is the army-contractor's name?" I inquired of my 
gracious neighbor. 

"His name is Taillefer," said she. 

" Are you feeling unwell ? " I exclaimed, as this unaccount- 
able being turned pale. 

" Not at all, not at all," he said, with a courteous gesture 
of acknowledgment. "I am listening," he said, with a nod 
to the rest of the party, for all eyes were turned at once upon 
him. 

"I forget the other young man's name," said M. Hermann. 
"But, at any rate, from Prosper Magnan's confidences I learned 
that his friend was dark, lively, and rather thin. If you have 
no objection, I will call him Wilhelm for the sake of clearness 
in the story." And the good German took up his tale again, 
again baptizing a French assistant surgeon with a German 
name, totally regardless of local color and of the demands of 
romanticism. 

" So by the time these two young fellows reached Andernach 
night had fallen ; and they, fancying that it was too late to 



THE RED HOUSE. 339 

report themselves to their chiefs, make themselves known and 
obtain billets in a place already full of soldiers, made up their 
minds to spend their last night of freedom in an inn, about a 
hundred paces outside the town. They had seen it from the 
crags above, and had admired the warm colors of the house, 
heightened by the glow of the sunset. The whole building 
was painted red, and produced a piquant effect in the land- 
scape, whether it was seen against the crowd of houses in the 
town, or as a mass of bright color against a background of 
forest trees, or a patch of scarlet by the gray water's edge. 
Doubtless the inn owed its external decoration, and conse- 
quently its name, to the whim of the builder in some forgotten 
time. The color had come to be literally a matter of custom 
to successive owners, for the inn had a name among the Rhine 
boatmen who frequented it. The sound of horses' hoofs 
brought the landlord of the Red House to the threshold. 

" ' Pardieu ! gentlemen,' cried he, ' a little later you would 
have had to sleep out of doors like most of your countrymen 
bivouacking yonder at the other end of Andernach. The 
house is full. If you positively must have a bed to sleep in, I 
have only my own room to offer you. As for the horses, I 
can lay down some litter in a corner of the yard for them ; 
my stables are full of christened men this day. You gentle- 
men are from France ? ' he went on after a brief pause. 

"'From Bonn,' cried Prosper, 'and we have had nothing 
to eat since morning.' 

" ' Oh ! as to victuals, 1 said the landlord, jerking his head, 
' people come to the Red House for ten leagues round for 
wedding feasts. You shall have a banquet fit for a prince, 
fish from the Rhine ! That tells you everything.' 

" When they had given over their tired beasts into the 
host's care, they left him to shout in vain for the stable folk, 
and went into the public room of the inn. It. was so full of 
dense white clouds blown from the pipes of a roomful of 
smokers that at first they could not make out what kind of 



340 THE RED HOUSE, 

company they had fallen among ; but after they had sat for 
a while at a table, and put in practice the patience of traveled 
philosophers who know when it is useless to make a fuss, they 
gradually made out the inevitable accessories of a German 
inn. The stove, the clock, the tables, pots of beer and long 
pipes, loomed out through the tobacco smoke; so did the 
faces of the motley crew, Jews, Germans, and whatnot, with 
one or two rough boatmen thrown in. 

" The epaulettes of a few French officers shone through the 
thick mist, and spurs and sabres clanked incessantly upon the 
flagstones. Some were playing at cards, the rest quarreled 
among themselves, or were silent, ate, or drank, and came 
or went. A stout little woman, who wore the black velvet 
cap, blue stomacher embroidered with silver, the pin-cushion, 
bunch of keys, silver clasps, and plaited hair of the typical 
German landlady (a costume made so familiar in all its details 
by a host of prints that it is too well known to need descrip- 
tion), came to the two friends and soothed their impatience, 
while she stimulated their interest in their supper with very 
remarkable skill. 

" Gradually the noise diminished, the travelers went off one 
by one, the clouds of tobacco smoke cleared away. By the 
time that the table was set for the assistant surgeons, and the 
classic carp from the Rhine appeared, it was eleven o'clock, 
and the room was empty. Through the stillness of the night 
it was possible to hear faint noises of horses stamping or 
crunching their provender, the ripple of the Rhine, the vague 
indefinable sounds in an inn full of people when every one 
has retired to rest. Doors and windows opened or shut ; 
there was an inarticulate murmur of voices, or a name was 
called out in some room overhead. During this time of 
silence and of commotion, while the two Frenchmen were 
eating their supper and the landlord engaged in extolling 
Andernach, the meal, his Rhine wine, his wife, and the 
Republican army, for the benefit of his guests, the three 



THE RED HOUSE. 341 

heard, with a certain degree of interest, the hoarse shouts of 
boatmen and the rattling sound of a boat being moored along- 
side the quay. The innkeeper, doubtless accustomed to be 
hailed by the guttural cries of the boatmen, hurried out, 
and soon came in again with a short, stout man, a couple of 
the boat's crew following them with a heavy valise and several 
packages. As soon as the baggage was deposited in the room, 
the short man picked up his valise and seated himself without 
ceremony at the table opposite the two surgeons. 

" ' You can sleep on board,' said he to the boatmen, ' as 
the inn is full. All things considered, that will be the best 
way.' 

" ' All the provisions I have in the house are here before 
you, sir,' said the landlord, and he indicated the Frenchmen's 
supper. ' I have not a crust of bread, and not so much as a 
bone ' 

" ' And no sauerkraut ? ' 

" ' Not so much as would fill my wife's thimble ! As I had 
the honor of telling you just now, you can have no bed but 
the chair you are sitting on, and this is the only unoccupied 
room.' 

" At these words the short personage glanced at the land- 
lord, at the room, and at the two Frenchmen, caution and 
alarm equally visible in the expression of his countenance. 

"At this point," said M. Hermann, interrupting himself, 
" I should tell you that we never knew this stranger's real 
name, nor his history ; we found out from his papers that he 
came from Aix-la-Chapelle, that he had assumed the name of 
Walhenfer, and owned a rather large pin-factory somewhere 
near Neuwied that was all. 

" He wore, like other manufacturers in that part of the 
world, an ordinary cloth overcoat, waistcoat, and breeches of 
dark-green velvet, high boots, and a broad leather belt. His 
face was perfectly round, his manners frank and hearty, and 
during the evening he found it very difficult to disguise some 



342 THE RED HOUSE. 

inward apprehensions, or, it may be, cruel anxieties. The 
innkeeper always said that the German merchant was flying 
the country, and I learned later on that his factory had been 
burned down through one of the unlucky accidents so 
frequent in time of war. But in spite of the uneasy look 
that his face generally wore, its natural expression denoted 
good-humor and good-nature. He had good features, and a 
particularly noticeable personal trait was a thick neck, so 
white in contrast with a black cravat, that Wilhelm jokingly 
pointed it out to Prosper " 

Here M. Taillefer drank another glass of water. 

" Prosper courteously invited the merchant to share their 
supper, and Walhenfer fell to without more ado, like a man 
who is conscious that he can repay a piece of civility. He 
set down his valise on the floor, put his feet upon it, took off 
his hat, drew his chair to the table, and laid down his gloves 
beside him, together with a pair of pistols, which he carried 
in his belt. The landlord quickly laid a cover for him, and 
the three began to satisfy their hunger silently enough. 

" The room was so close and the flies so troublesome that 
Prosper besought the landlord to open the window that 
looked out upon the quay to let in fresh air. This window 
was fastened by an iron bar that dropped into a socket on 
either side of the window frame, and for greater security a 
nut fastened to each of the shutters received a bolt. It so 
happened that Prosper watched the landlord unfasten the 
window. 

"But since I am going into these particulars," M. Her- 
mann remarked, " I ought to describe the internal arrange- 
ments of the house ; for the whole interest of the story 
depends on an accurate knowledge of the place. 

"There were two entrance doors in the room where these 
three personages were sitting. One opened on to the road 
that followed the river bank to Andernach, and, as might be 
expected, just opposite the inn, there was a little jetty where 



THE RED HOUSE. 343 

the boat which the merchant had hired for his voyage was 
moored at that moment. The other door gave admittance to 
the inn-yard, a court shut in by very high walls, and at the 
moment full of horses and cattle, for human beings occupied 
the stables. 

"The house-door had been so carefully bolted and barred 
that, to save time, the landlord had opened the street-door of 
the sitting-room to admit the merchant and the boatmen, and 
now, when he had opened the window at Prosper Magnan's 
instance, he set to work to shut this door, slipping the bolts 
and screwing the nuts. 

" The landlord's bedroom, where the friends were to sleep, 
was next to the public room of the inn, and only separated 
from the kitchen, where the host and hostess were probably 
to pass the night, by a sufficiently thin partition wall. The 
maidservant had just gone out to find a nook in some manger, 
or in the corner of a hayloft somewhere or other. It will be 
readily understood that the public room, the landlord's bed- 
room, and the kitchen were in a manner apart from the rest 
of the inn. The deep barking of two great dogs in the yard 
indicated that the house had vigilant and wakeful guardians. 

" ' How quiet it is, and what a glorious night ! ' said Wil- 
helm, looking out at the sky when the landlord had bolted 
the door. There was not a sound to be heard at the moment 
save the rippling of the water. 

" ' Gentlemen,' said the merchant, addressing the French- 
men, ' allow me to offer you a bottle or two of wine to wash 
down your carp. A glass will refresh us after a tiring day. 
By the look of you, and the condition of your clothes, I can 
see that, like myself, you have come a good way.' 

"The two friends accepted the proposal, and the landlord 
went out through the kitchen to the cellar, doubtless situated 
beneath that part of the establishment. About the time that 
five venerable bottles appeared upon the table, the landlord's 
wife had finished serving the supper. She gave a housewife's 



344 THE RED HOUSE. 

glance over the dishes and round the room, assured herself 
that the travelers had everything they were likely to want, 
and went back to the kitchen. The four boon companions, 
for the host was asked to join the party, did not hear her go 
off to bed ; but before long, in the pauses of the chat over 
the wine, there came an occasional very distinct sound of 
snoring from the loft above the kitchen where she was sleep- 
ing, a sound rendered still more resonant by reason of the 
thin plank floor. This made the guests smile, and the land- 
lord smiled still more. 

" Towards midnight, when there was nothing left on the 
table but cheese and biscuits, dried fruit, and good wine, the 
whole party, and the young Frenchmen more particularly, 
grew communicative. They talked about their country, their 
studies, and the war. After a while the conversation grew 
lively. Prosper Magnan drew tears to the merchant's eyes 
when, with a Picard's frankness and the simplicity of a kindly 
and affectionate nature, he began to imagine what his mother 
would be doing while he, her son, was here on the bank of 
the Rhine. 

" 'It is just as if I can see her,' he said ; 'she is reading 
the evening prayer, the last thing at night ! She will not 
forget me I know ; she is sure to say, " Where is my poor 
Prosper, I wonder?" Then if she has won a few sous at 
cards of your mother perhaps,' he added, jogging Wilhelm's 
elbow ' she will be putting them in the big red jar, where 
she keeps the money she is saving up to buy those thirty acres 
that lie within her own little bit of land at Lescheville. The 
thirty acres will be worth something like sixty thousand francs. 
Good meadow land it is ! Ah ! if I were to have it some 
day, I would live all the rest of my life at Lescheville, and want 
nothing better ! How often my father wanted those thirty 
acres and the nice little stream that winds along through the 
fields ! And, after all, he died and could not buy the land. 
I have played there many and many a time ! ' 



THE RED HOUSE. 345 

"'M. Walhenfer, haven't you also your hoc erat in votis ? ' 
asked Wilhelm. 

" ' Yes, sir, yes ! But it all came to me as it was, and now 
' the good man stopped short and said no more. 

" ' For my own part,' said the landlord, whose countenance 
was slightly flushed, ' I bought a bit of meadow last year that 
I had set my mind on these ten years past.' 

" So they chatted on, as folk will talk when wine has un- 
loosed their tongues, and struck up one of those travelers' 
friendships that we are a little chary of making on a journey, 
in such a way that when they rose to go to their room Wil- 
helm offered his bed to the merchant. 

"'You can take the offer without hesitation,' he said, 
' for Prosper and I can sleep together. It will not be the first 
time nor the last either, I expect. You are the oldest among 
us, and we ought to honor old age.' 

" ' Pooh ! ' said the landlord, ' there are several mattresses 
on our bed, one can be laid on the floor for you,' and he went 
to shut the window with the usual clatter caused by this pre- 
caution. 

" 'I accept your offer,' said the merchant, addressing Wil- 
helm. ' I confess,' he added, lowering his voice, and looking 
at the friends, ' that I wanted you to make it. I feel that I 
cannot trust my boatmen ; and I am not sorry to find myself 
in the company of two decent young fellows, two French 
military men, moreover, for the night. I have a hundred 
thousand francs in gold and diamonds in that valise.' 

"The two younger men received this incautious communi- 
cation with a discreet friendliness that reassured the worthy 
German. The landlord helped his guests to shift one of the 
mattresses, and, when things had been arranged as comfortably 
as possible, wished them good-night and went off to bed. 
The merchant and the surgeons joked each other about their 
pillows. Prosper put Wilhelm's case of surgical instru- 
ments, as well as his own, under the mattress, to raise the end 



846 THE RED HOUSE. 

and supply the place of a bolster, just as Walhenfer, in an 
excess of extreme caution, bestowed his valise in a like 
manner. 

" ' We are both going to sleep on our fortunes you on 
your money, and I on my case of instruments ! It remains 
to be seen whether my case will bring me in as much money as 
you have made.' 

"'You may hope so,' said the merchant. ' Honest work 
will accomplish most things, but you must have patience.' 

" Before very long Walhenfer and Wilhelm fell asleep. But 
whether it was because his bed was too hard, or he himself 
was overtired and wakeful, or through some unlucky mood of 
mind, Prosper Magnan lay wide awake. Imperceptibly his 
thoughts took an ill turn. He could think of nothing but 
that hundred thousand francs beneath the merchant's pillow. 
For him a hundred thousand francs was a vast fortune ready 
made. He began by laying out the money in endless ways, 
building castles in the air, as we are all apt to do with so 
much enjoyment just before we drop off to sleep, when indis- 
tinct and hazy ideas arise in our minds, and not seldom night 
and silence give a magical vividness to our thoughts. 

" In these visions Prosper Magnan overtopped his mother's 
ambitions ; he bought the thirty acres of meadow, and mar- 
ried a young lady in Beauvais, to whose hand he could not 
aspire at present owing to inequality of fortune. With this 
wealth he planned out a whole pleasant lifetime, saw himself 
the prosperous father of a family, rich, looked up to in the 
neighborhood, possibly even mayor of Beauvais. The Picard 
head was on fire ; he cast about for the means of realizing these 
dreams of his. With extraordinary warmth of imagination he 
set himself to plan out a crime, and gold and diamonds were 
the most vivid and distinct portion of a vision of the mer- 
chant's death ; the glitter dazzled him. His heart beat fast. 
He had committed a crime, no doubt, by harboring such 
thoughts as these. The spell of the gold was upon him ; his 



THE RED HOUSE. 347 

moral nature was intoxicated by insidious reasonings. He 
asked himself whether there was any reason why the poor 
German should live, and imagined how it would have been 
if he had never existed. To put it briefly, he plotted out a 
way to do the deed with complete impunity. 

" The Austrians held the other bank of the Rhine ; a boat 
lay there under the windows ; there were boatmen there ; he 
could cut the man's throat, fling him into the Rhine, escape 
with the valise through a casement, bribe the boatmen, and go 
over to the Austrian side. He even went so far as to count 
upon his surgeon's dexterity with the knife ; he knew of a 
way of decapitating his victim before the sleeper could utter 
a single shriek." 

M. Taillefer wiped his forehead at this point, and again he 
drank a little water. 

" Then Prosper Magnan rose slowly and noiselessly. He 
assured himself that he had awakened nobody, dressed and 
went into the public room. Then, with the fatal lucidity of 
mind that suddenly comes at certain crises, with the height- 
ened power of intuition and strength of will that is never lack- 
ing to criminals or to prisoners in the execution of their de- 
signs, he unscrewed the iron bars, and drew them from their 
sockets, and set them against the wall without the slightest 
sound, hanging with all his weight on to the shutters lest they 
should creak as they turned on their hinges. In the pale 
moonlight he could dimly see the objects in the room where 
Wilhelm and Walhenfer were sleeping. 

" Then, he told me, he stopped short for a moment. His 
heart beat so hard and so heavily that the sound seemed to 
ring through the room, and he stood like one dismayed as he 
heard it. He began to fear for his coolness ; his hands shook, 
he felt as if he were standing on burning coals. But so fair 
a prospect depended upon the execution of his design that 
he saw something like a providence in this dispensation of fate 
that had brought the merchant thither. He opened the win- 



348 THE RED HOUSE. 

dow, went back to his room, took up his case, and looked 
through it for an instrument best adapted to his purpose. 

"'And when I stood by the bed' (he told me this), 'I 
asked God for His protection, unthinkingly." 

" He had just raised his arm, and was summoning all his 
strength for the blow, when something like a voice cried within 
him, and he thought he saw a light. He flung down the sur- 
gical instrument on his bed, fled into the next room, and stood 
at the window. A profound horror of himself came over him, 
and feeling how little he could trust himself, fearing to yield 
to the fascination that held him, he sprang quickly out of the 
window and walked along by the Rhine, acting as sentinel, as 
it were, before the inn. Again and again he walked restlessly 
to and from Andernach, often also his wanderings led him to 
the slope of the ravine which they had descended that after- 
noon to reach the inn ; but so deep was the silence of the 
night, and so strong his dread of arousing the watch-dogs, 
that he kept away from the Red House, and lost sight alto- 
gether more than once of the window that he had left open. 
He tried to weary himself out, and so to induce sleep. Yet, 
as he walked to and fro under the cloudless sky, watching the 
brilliant stars, it may be that the pure night air and the mel- 
ancholy lapping of the water wrought upon him and restored 
him by degrees to moral sanity. Sober reason completed the 
work and dispelled that short-lived madness. His education, 
the precepts of religion, and, above all things (so he told me), 
visions of the homely life that he had led beneath his father's 
roof, got the better of his evil thoughts. He thought and 
pondered for long, his elbow resting on a boulder by the side 
of the Rhine ; and when he turned to go in again, he could 
not only have slept, so he said, but have watched over millions 
of gold. 

" When his honesty emerged strengthened and triumphant 
from that ordeal, he knelt in joy and ecstasy to thank God ; 
he felt as happy, light-hearted, and contented as on the day 



THE RED HOUSE. 349 

when he took the sacrament for the first time, and felt not 
unworthy of the angels because he had spent the day without 
sin in thought, or word, or deed. 

" He went back again to the inn, shut the window without 
care to move noiselessly, and went to bed at once. Mind and 
body were utterly exhausted, and sleep overcame him. He 
had scarcely laid his head on the mattress before the dreamy 
drowsiness that precedes sound slumber crept over him ; when 
the senses grow torpid, conscious life ebbs away, thought grows 
fragmentary, and the last communications of sense to the 
brain are like the impressions of a dream. 

" ' How close the air is ! ' said Prosper to himself. ' It is 
just as if I were breathing a damp mist ' 

" Dimly he sought to account for this state of things by 
attributing it to the difference between the outside tempera- 
ture in the pure country air and the closed room ; but before 
long he heard a constantly recurring sound, very much like 
the slow drip of water from a leaking tap. On an impulse of 
panic terror, he thought of rising and calling the landlord, or 
the merchant, or Wilhelm ; but, for his misfortune, he be- 
thought himself of the wooden clock in the next room, 
fancied that the sound was the beat of the pendulum, and 
dropped off to sleep with this dim and confused idea in his 
head." 

" Do you want some water, M. Taillefer? " asked the master 
of the house, seeing the banker take up the empty decanter 
mechanically. 

M. Hermann went on with his story after the slight inter- 
ruption of the banker's reply. 

"The next morning," he went on, " Prosper Magnan was 
awakened by a great noise. It seemed to him that he had 
heard shrill cries, and he felt that violent nervous tremor 
which we experience when we wake to a painful sensation 
that began during slumber. The thing that takes place in us 
when we 'wake with a start,' to use the common expression, 



350 THE RED HOUSE. 

has been insufficiently investigated, though it presents inter- 
esting problems to physiological science. The terrible shock, 
caused it may be by the too sudden reunion of the two natures 
in us that are almost always apart while we sleep, is usually 
momentary, but it was not so for the unlucky young surgeon. 
The horror grew, and his hair bristled hideously all at once, 
when he saw a pool of blood between his own mattress and 
Walhenfer's bedstead. The unfortunate German's head was 
lying on the floor, the body was still on the bed, all this blood 
had drained from the neck. Prosper Magnan saw Walhenfer's 
eyes unclosed and staring, saw red on the sheets that he had 
slept in, and even on his own hands, saw his own surgeon's 
knife on the bed, and fainted away on the blood-stained 
floor. 

" ' I was punished already for my thoughts,' he said to me 
afterwards. 

" When he came to himself again, he was sitting in a chair 
in the public room of the inn, a group of French soldiers 
round about him, and an inquisitive and interested crowd. 
He stared in dull bewilderment at a Republican officer who 
was busy taking down the depositions of several witnesses 
and drawing up an official report ; he recognized the landlord 
and his wife, the two boatmen, and the maidservant. The 
surgical instrument used by the murderer " 

Here M. Taillefer coughed, drew out his pocket-handker- 
chief, and wiped, his forehead. His movements were so 
natural that I alone noticed them ; indeed, all eyes were 
fixed on M. Hermann with a kind of greedy interest. The 
army-contractor leaned his elbow on the table, propped his 
head on his right hand, and looked fixedly at Hermann. 
From that time forward I saw no involuntary signs of agitation 
nor of interest in the tale, but his face was grave and corpse- 
like ; he looked just as he had done while he was playing with 
the decanter-stopper. 

" The surgical instrument used by the murderer lay on the 



THE RED HOUSE. 351 

table, beside the case with Prosper' s pocket-book and papers. 
The crowd looked by turns at the young surgeon and at these 
convincing proofs of his guilt ; he himself appeared to be 
dying ; his dull eyes seemed to have no power of sight in 
them. A confused murmur outside made it evident that a 
crowd had gathered about the inn, attracted by the news of 
the murder, and perhaps by a wish to catch a sight of the 
criminal. The tramp of the sentries posted under the windows 
and the clanking of their weapons rose over the whispered 
talk of the populace. The inn itself was shut up, the court- 
yard was silent and deserted. 

"The gaze of the officer who was drawing up the report 
was intolerable ; Prosper Magnan felt some one grasp his 
hand ; looked up to see who it was that stood by him among 
that unfriendly crowd, and recognized, by the uniform that 
he wore, the senior surgeon of the demi-brigade quartered in 
Andernach. So keen and merciless were those eyes that the 
poor young fellow shuddered, and his head dropped on to the 
back of the chair. One of the men held vinegar for him to 
inhale, and Prosper regained consciousness at once; but his 
haggard eyes were so destitute of life and intelligence that 
the senior surgeon felt his pulse, and spoke to the officer : 

" ' Captain,' he said, ' it is impossible to examine the man 
just now ' 

" 'Very well. Take him away,' returned the captain, cut- 
ting the surgeon short, and speaking to a corporal who stood 
behind the junior's chair. 

" ' Confounded scoundrel ! ' the man muttered ; ' try at 
least to hold up your head before these German beggars, to 
save the honor of the Republic.' 

" Thus adjured, Prosper Magnan came to his senses, rose, 
and went forward a few paces ; but when the door opened, 
when he felt the outer air, and saw the people crowding up, 
all his strength failed him, his knees bent under him, he tot- 
tered. 



352 THE RED HOUSE. 

" ' The confounded sawbones deserves to be put an end to 
twice over ! March, can't you 1 ' said the two men on either 
side of him, on whom he leaned. 

" ' Oh, the coward ! the coward ! Here he comes ! here 
he comes ! There he is ! ' 

" The words were uttered as by one voice, the clamorous 
voice of the mob who hemmed him in, insulting and reviling 
him at every step. During the time that it took to go from 
the inn to the prison, the trampling feet of the crowd and 
the soldiers who guarded him, the muttered talk of those 
about him, the sky above, the morning air, the streets of An- 
dernach, the rippling murmur of the current of the Rhine, 
all reached him as dull, vague impressions, confused and dim, 
like all his experiences since his awakening. At times he 
thought that he had ceased to exist, so he told me after- 
wards. 

" I myself was in prison just then," said M. Hermann, in- 
terrupting himself. " We are all enthusiasts at twenty. I 
was on fire to defend my country, and commanded a volun- 
teer troop raised in and about Andernach. A short time pre- 
viously, I managed to fall in one night with a French detach- 
ment of eight hundred men. There were two hundred of us 
at the most ; my scouts had betrayed me. I was thrown into 
the prison at Andernach while they debated whether or no to 
have me shot by way of a warning to the country. The French, 
moreover, talked of reprisals, but the murder for which they 
had a mind to avenge themselves on me turned out to have 
been committed outside the Electorate. My father had ob- 
tained a reprieve of three days, to make application for my 
pardon to General Augereau, who granted it. 

" So I saw Prosper Magnan as soon as I came into the 
prison at Andernach, and the first sight of him filled me with 
the deepest pity for him. Haggard, exhausted, and blood- 
stained though he was, there was a certain frankness in his 
face that convinced me of his innocence, and made a deep 



THE RED HOUSE. 353 

impression upon me. It was as if Germany stood there visibly 
before me the prisoner with the long, fair hair and blue eyes 
was for my imagination the very personification of the pros- 
trate Fatherland this was no murderer, but a victim. As 
he went past my window, a sad, bitter smile lit up his face for 
a moment, as if a transitory gleam of sanity crossed a disor- 
dered brain. Such a smile would surely not be seen on a 
murderer's lips. When I next saw the turnkey, I asked him 
about his new prisoner. 

" ' He hasn't said a word since he went into his cell. He 
sits there with his head on his hands, and sleeps or thinks 
about his trouble. From what I hear the Frenchmen saying, 
they will settle his case to-morrow, and he will be shot within 
twenty-four hours.' 

" That evening I lingered a little under his windows during 
the short time allowed for exercise in the prison-yard. We 
talked together, and he told me very simply the story of his 
ill-luck, giving sufficiently straightforward answers to my dif- 
ferent questions. After that conversation I no longer doubted 
his innocence. I asked and obtained the favor of spending a 
few hours in his company, and saw him in this way several 
times. The poor boy let me into the secret of his thoughts 
without reserve. In his own opinion, he was at once innocent 
and guilty. He remembered the hideous temptation which he 
had found strength to resist, and was afraid that he had com- 
mitted the murder planned while he was awake in an access 
of somnambulism. 

" ' But how about your companion ? ' said I. 

" ' Oh, Wilhelm is incapable ! ' he cried vehemently. 

He did not even finish the sentence. I grasped his hand 
at the warm-hearted outburst, so fraught with youth and 
virtue. 

" ' I expect he was frightened when he woke,' he said ; ' he 
must have lost his presence of mind and fled ' 

"'Without waking you?' I asked. 'Why, in that case 
23 



354 THE RED HOUSE. 

your defence is soon made, for Walhenfer's valise will not 
have been stolen.' 

"All at once he burst into tears. 

'"Oh, yes, yes! ' he cried; 'I am not guilty. I cannot 
have killed him. I remember the dreams I had. I was at 
school, playing at prisoners-base. I could not have cut his 
throat while I was dreaming of running about.' 

"But in spite of the gleams of hope that quieted his mind 
somewhat at times, he still felt crushed by the weight of re- 
morse. There was no blinking the fact he had raised his 
arm to strike the blow. He condemned himself, and con- 
sidered that he was morally guilty after committing the crime 
in imagination. 

" ' And yet, I am not a bad fellow,' he cried. ' Oh, poor 
mother ! Perhaps just now she is happily playing at cards 
with her friends in the little tapestried room at home. If she 
knew that I had so much as raised my hand to take another 
man's life Oh ! it would kill her ! And I am in prison, 
and accused of murder ! If I did not kill the man, I shall 
certainly be the death of my mother ! ' 

" He shed no tears as he spoke. In a wild fit of frenzy, 
not uncommon among Picards, he sprang up, and, if I had 
not forcibly restrained him, would have dashed his head 
against the wall. 

" 'Wait until you have been tried,' I said. 'You will be 
acquitted ; you are innocent. And your mother ' 

"'My mother,' he cried wildly; 'my mother will hear 
that I have been accused of murder, that is the main point. 
You always hear things like that in little places, and my poor 
mother will die of grief. Besides, I am not innocent. Do 
you care to know the whole truth ! I feel that I have lost the 
virginity of my conscience.' 

"With those terrible words, he sat down, folded his arms 
across his chest, bowed his head, and fixed his eyes gloomily 
on the floor. Just then the turnkey came to bid me return to 



THE RED HOUSE. 355 

my cell ; but loth to leave my companion when his discourage- 
ment seemed at its blackest, I clasped him in a friendly 
embrace. ' Be patient,' I said, ' perhaps it will all come 
right. If an honest man's opinion can silence your doubts, 
I tell you this that I esteem you and love you. Accept my 
friendship and repose on my heart, if you cannot feel at peace 
with your own.' 

" On the following day, about nine o'clock, a corporal and 
four fusiliers came for the assistant surgeon. I heard the 
sound of the soldiers' footsteps, and went to the window; 
our eyes met as he crossed the court. Never shall I forget the 
glance fraught with so many thoughts and forebodings, nor 
the resignation and indescribably sad and melancholy sweet- 
ness in his expression. In that dumb swift transference of 
thought my friend conveyed his testament to me ; he left his 
lost life to the one friend who was beside him at the last. 

" That night must have been very hard to live through, a 
very lonely night for him ; but perhaps the pallor that over- 
spread his face was a sign of a newly-acquired stoicism, based 
on a new view of himself. Perhaps he felt purified by re- 
morse, and thought to expiate his sin in this anguish and 
shame. He walked with a firm step ; and I noticed that he 
had removed the accidental stains of blood that soiled his 
clothing the night before. 

" ' Unluckily I stained my hands while I was asleep; I 
always was an uneasy sleeper,' he had said, a dreadful despair 
in the tones of his voice. 

"I was told that he was about to be tried by a court- 
martial. The division was to go forward in two days' time, 
and the commandant of the demi-brigade meant to try the 
criminal on the spot before leaving Andernach. 

"While that court-martial was sitting, I was in an agony 
of suspense. It was noon before they brought Prosper 
Magnan back to prison. I was taking my prescribed exercise 
when he came ; he saw me, and rushed into my arms. 



356 THE RED HOUSE, 

" ' I am lost ! ' he said. ' Lost beyond hope ! Every one 
here must look on me as a murderer ' 

"Then he raised his head proudly. ' This injustice has com- 
pletely given me back my innocence,' he said. ' If I had 
lived, my life must always have been troubled, but my death 
shall be without reproach. But is there anything beyond ? ' 

" The whole eighteenth century spoke in that sudden 
questioning. He was absorbed in thought. 

" ' But what did you tell them ? What did they ask you ? ' 
I cried. ' Did you not tell them the simple truth as you told 
it to me ? ' 

"He gazed at me for a minute, then after the brief, dread- 
ful pause, he answered with a feverish readiness of speech 

" ' First of all they asked me " Did you go out of the inn 
during the night? " "Yes," I told them. "How did you 
get out?" I turned red, and answered, "Through the 
window." "Then you must have opened it?" "Yes," I 
said. "You set about it very cautiously; the landlord heard 
nothing ! " I was like one stupefied all the time. The boat- 
men swore that they had seen me walking, sometimes towards 
Andernach, sometimes towards the forest. I went to and fro 
many times, they said. I had buried the gold and diamonds. 
As a matter of fact, the valise has not been found. Then, the 
whole time, I myself was struggling against remorse. When- 
ever I opened my mouth t*o speak, a merciless voice seemed 
to cry, " You meant to do it!" Everything was against me, 
even myself ! They wanted to know about my comrade, and 
I completely exonerated him. Then they said, " One of you 
four must be guilty you or your comrade, the innkeeper or 
his wife. All the doors and windows were shut fast this 
morning! " When they said that,' he went on, 'I had no 
voice, no strength, no spirit left in me. I was more sure of 
my friend than of myself; I saw very well that they thought 
us both equally guilty of the murder, and I was the clumsier 
one of the two. I tried to explain the thing by somnam- 



THE RED HOUSE. 357 

bulism ; I tried to clear my friend ; then I got muddled, and 
it was all over with me. I read my sentence in the judges' 
eyes. Incredulous smiles stole across their faces. That is all. 

The suspense is over. I am to be shot to-morrow I do 

not think of myself now,' he said, ' but of my poor mother.' 

" He stopped short and looked up to heaven. He shed no 
tears ; his eyes were dry and contracted with pain. 

" Frederic ! 

" Ah ! I remember now ! The other one was called Fr6d- 
eric Frederic ! Yes, I am sure that was the name," M. 
Hermann exclaimed triumphantly. 

I felt the pressure of my fair neighbor's foot ; she made a 
sign to me, and looked across at M. Taillefer. The some- 
time army-contractor's hand drooped carelessly over his eyes, 
but through the fingers we thought we saw a smouldering 
blaze in them. 

"Eh?" she said in my ear, "and now suppose that his 
name is Frederic? " 

I gave the lady a side glance of entreaty to be silent. Her- 
mann went on with his tale. 

" ' It is cowardly of Frederic to leave me to my fate. He 
must have been afraid. Perhaps he is hiding in the inn, for 
both our horses were there in the yard that morning. What 
an inexplicable mystery it is ! ' he added, after a pause. 
' Somnambulism, somnambulism ! I never walked in my 
sleep but once in my life, and then I was not six years old. 
And I am to go out of this,' he went on, striking his foot 
against the earth, 'and take with me all the friendship that 
there is in the world ! Must I die twice over, doubting the 
friendship that began when we were five years old, and lasted 
through all our school-life and our student days ! Where is 
Frederic ? ' 

" The tears filled his eyes. We cling more closely to a 
sentiment than to our life, it seems ! 

" 'Let us go in again,' he said; 'I would rather be in my 



358 THE RED HOUSE. 

cell. I don't mean them to see me crying. I shall go bravely 
to my death, but I cannot play the hero in season and out of 
season, and I confess that I am sorry to leave my life, my fair 
life, and my youth. I did not sleep last night ; I remembered 
places about my home when I was a child ; I saw myself run- 
ning about in the meadows, perhaps it was the memories of 
those fields that led to my ruin. I had a future before me ' 
(he interrupted himself). 'A dozen men, a sub-lieutenant 
who will cry, " Ready ! present ! fire ! " a roll of drums, and 
disgrace ! that is my future now ! Ah ! there is a God, there 
is a God, or all this would be too nonsenical.' 

" Then he grasped my arm, put his arms about me and held 
me tightly to him. 

" 'Ah ! you are the last human soul to whom I can pour 
out my soul. You will be free again ! You will see your 
mother ! I do not know whether you are rich or poor, but 
no matter for that, you are all the world for me. They cannot 
keep the fighting up forever. Well and good then, when 
they make peace, go to Beauvais. If my mother survives the 
disastrous news of my death, you will find her out and tell her 
" He was innocent," to comfort her. She will believe you,' 
he went on. ' I shall write to her as well, but you will carry 
my last look to her; you shall tell her how that you were the last 
friend whom I embraced before I died. Ah ! how she will 
love you, my poor mother, you who have stood my friend at 
the last ! ' He was silent for a moment or two, the burden of 
his memories seemed too heavy for him to bear. ' Here they 
are all strangers to me,' he said, 'the other surgeons and the 
men, and they all shrink from me in horror. But for you, 
my innocence must remain a secret between me and heaven.' 

" I vowed to fulfill his last wishes as a sacred charge. He 
felt that my heart went out to him, and was touched by my 
words. A little later the soldiers came back to take him 
before the court-martial again. He was doomed. 

"I know nothing of the formalities or circumstances that 



THE RED HOUSE. 359 

attend a sentence of this kind ; I do not know whether there 
is any appeal, nor whether the young surgeon's defense was 
made according to rule and precedent, but he prepared to go 
to his death early on the morrow, and spent that night in 
writing to his mother. 

" ' We shall both be set free to-day,' he said, smiling, when 
I went the next day to see him. ' The general has signed your 
pardon, I hear.' 

" I said nothing, and gazed at him to engrave his features 
on my memory. 

" A look of loathing crossed his face, and he said, ' I have 
been a miserable coward ! All n>ght long I have been praying 
the very walls for mercy,' and he looked round his cell. 'Yes, 
yes,' he went on, ' I howled with despair, I rebelled against 
this, I have been through the most fearful inward conflict. 
I was alone ! Now I am thinking of what others will say of 
me Courage is like a garment that we put on. I must go 
decently to my death. And so ' " 



II. A DOUBLE RETRIBUTION. 

"Oh ! do not tell us any more ! " cried the girl who had 
asked for the story, cutting short the Nuremberger. " I want 
to live in suspense, and to believe that he was saved. If I 
were to know to-night that they shot him, I should not sleep. 
You must tell me the rest to-morrow." 

We rose. M. Hermann offered his arm to my fair neighbor, 
who asked as she took it, " They shot him, did they not? " 

"Yes. I was there." 

"What, monsieur, you could " 

" He wished it, madame. It is something very ghastly to 
attend the funeral of a living man, your own friend who is not 
guilty of the crime laid to his charge. The poor young fellow 



360 THE RED HOUSE. 

never took his eyes off me. He seemed to have no life but 
mine left. ' He wished,' he said, ' that I should bear his last 
sigh to his mother.' " 

" Well, and did you see her? " 

" After the Peace of Amiens I went to France to take the 
glad tidings, ' He was innocent ! ' That pilgrimage was like 
a sacred duty laid upon me. But Mme. Magnan was dead, I 
found ; she had died of consumption. I burned the letter 
I had brought for her, not without deep emotion. Perhaps 
you will laugh at my German high-flown sentimentality ; but 
for me there was a tragedy most sublimely sad in the eternal 
silence which was about to swallow up those farewells uttered 
in vain from one grave to another grave, and heard by none, 
like the cry of some traveler in the desert surprised by a beast 
of prey." 

Here I broke in with a " How if some one were to bring 
you face to face with one of the men in this drawing-room, 
and say, ' There is the murderer ! ' would not that be another 
tragedy ? And what would you do ? " 

M. Hermann took up his hat and went. 

" You are acting like a young man, and very thoughtlessly," 
said the lady. " Just look at Taillefer ; there he sits in a low 
chair by the fire, Mademoiselle Fanny is handing him a cup 
of coffee ; he is smiling. How could a murderer display such 
quiet self-possession as that, after a story that must have been 
torture to him? He looks quite patriarchal, does he not?" 

"Yes; but just ask him if he has been with the army in 
Germany! " I exclaimed. 

"Why not?" and with the audacity rarely lacking in 
womankind when occasion tempts or curiosity gets the better 
of her, my fair neighbor went across to the army-contractor. 

"Have you been in Germany, M. Taillefer?" quoth she. 

Taillefer all but dropped his saucer. 

"I, madame? No, never." 

" Why, what is that your are saying, Taillefer ? " protested 



THE RED HOUSE. 361 

the banker, chiming in. "You were in the Wagram cam- 
paign, were you not on the victualing establishment? " 
" Oh, yes ! " answered Taillefer ; " I was there, that once." 
"You are wrong about him ; he is a good sort of man," 
decided the lady when she came back to me. 

" Very well," said I to myself, " before this evening is over 
I will drive the murderer out of the mire in which he is 
hiding." 

There is a phenomenon of consciousness that takes place 
daily beneath our eyes, so commonplace that no one notices 
it, and yet there are astounding depths beneath it. Two men 
meet in a drawing-room who have some cause to disdain or to 
hate each other ; perhaps one of them knows something which 
is not to the credit of the other ; perhaps it is a condition of 
things that is kept a secret ; perhaps one of them is meditating 
a revenge ; but both of them are conscious of the gulf that 
divides them, or that ought to divide them. Before they 
know it, they are watching each other and absorbed in each 
other ; some subtle emanation of their thought seems to distil 
from every look and gesture ; they have a magnetic influence. 
Nor can I tell which has the more power of attraction 
revenge or crime, hatred or contempt. Like some priest who 
cannot consecrate the house where an evil spirit abides, the 
two are ill at ease and suspicious ; one of them, it is hard to 
say which, is polite, and the other sullen ; one of them turns 
pale or red, and the other trembles, and it often happens that 
the avenger is quite as cowardly as the victim. For very few 
of us have the nerve to cause pain, even if it is necessary 
pain, and many a man passes over a matter or forgives from 
sheer hatred of fuss or dread of making a tragical scene. 

With this intersusceptibility of minds, and apprehensive- 
ness of thought and feeling, there began a mysterious struggle 
between the army-contractor and myself. Ever since my in- 
terruption of M. Hermann's story he had shunned my eyes. 



362 THE RED HOUSE. 

Perhaps in like manner he looked none of the party in the 
face. He was chatting now with the inexperienced Fanny, 
the banker's daughter; probably, like all criminals, he felt a 
longing to take shelter with innocence, as if the mere prox- 
imity of innocence might bring him peace for a while. But 
though I stood on the other side of the room, I still listened to 
all that he said ; my direct gaze fascinated him. When he 
thought he could glance at me in turn, unnoticed, our eyes 
met, and his eyelids fell directly. Taillefer found this torture 
intolerable, and hastened to put a stop to it by betaking him- 
self to a card-table. I backed his opponent, hoping to lose 
my money. It fell out as I had wished. The other player 
left the table, I cut in, and the guilty man and I were now 
face to face. 

" Monsieur," I said, as he dealt the cards, " will you be so 
good as to begin a fresh score ? " He swept his counters from 
right to left somewhat hastily. The lady, my neighbor at 
dinner, passed by ; I gave her a significant glance. 

" M. Frederic Taillefer," I asked, addressing my opponent, 
" are you related to a family in Beauvais with whom I am well 
acquainted ? ' ' 

" Yes, sir." He let the cards fall, turned pale, hid his face 
in his hands, begged one of his backers to finish the game for 
him, and rose. 

"It is too warm here," he gasped ; " I am afraid " 

He did not finish his sentence. An expression of horrible 
anguish suddenly crossed his face, and he hurried out of the 
room, the master of the house following him with what 
appeared to be keen anxiety. My neighbor and I looked at 
each other, but her face was overcast by indescribable sadness ; 
there was a tinge of bitterness in it. 

"Is your behavior very merciful?" she asked, as I rose 
from the card-table, where I had been playing and losing. 
She drew me into the embrasure of the window as she spoke. 
" Would you be willing to accept the power of reading all 



THE RED HOUSE. 363 

hearts if you could have it ? Why interfere with man's justice 
or God's? We may escape the one; we shall never escape 
the other. Is the prerogative of a president of a court of 
assize so enviable ? And you have all but done the execu- 
tioner's office as well " 

" After sharing and stimulating my curiosity," I said, " you 
are lecturing me ! " 

"You have made me think," she answered. 

" So it is to be peace to scoundrels and woe to the unfor- 
tunate, is it ? Let us down on our knees and worship gold ! But 
shall we change the subject ? " I said with a laugh. " Please 
look at the young lady who is just coming into the room." 

"Well?" 

" I met her three days ago at a ball at the Neapolitan 
embassy, and fell desperately in love. For pity's sake, tell 
me who she is. No one could tell me " 

"This is Mile. Victorine Taillefer! " 

Everything swam before my eyes ; I could scarcely hear the 
tones of the speaker's voice. 

" Her stepmother brought her home only a while ago from 
the convent where she has been finishing her education some- 
what late. For a long time her father would not recognize 

her. She comes here to-day for the first time. She is very 
handsome and very rich ! " 

A sardonic smile went with the words. Just as she spoke, 
we heard loud cries that seemed to come from an adjoining 
room ; stifled though they were, they echoed faintly through 
the garden. 

"Is not that M. Taillefer's voice?" I asked. We both 
listened intently to the sounds, and fearful groans reached our 
ears. Just then our hostess hurried towards us and closed the 
window. 

" Let us avoid scenes," she said to us. " If Mile. Taille- 
fer were to hear her father, it would be quite enough to send 
her into a fit of hysterics." 



364 THE RED HOUSE. 

The banker came back to the drawing-room, looked for 
Victorine, and spoke a few low words in her ear. The girl 
sprang at once towards the door with an exclamation, and 
vanished. This produced a great sensation. The card-parties 
broke up ; every one asked his neighbor what had happened. 
The buzz of talk grew louder, and groups were formed. 

" Has M. Taillefer ? " I began. 

"Killed himself?" put in my sarcastic friend. "You 
would wear mourning for him with a light heart, I can see." 

" But what can have happened to him ? " 

" Poor man ! " (it was the lady of the house who spoke) 
" he suffers from a complaint I cannot recollect the name of 
it, though M. Brousson has told me about it often enough 
and he has just had a seizure." 

"What kind of complaint is it?" asked an examining 
magistrate suddenly. 

"Oh, it is something dreadful," she answered ; "and the 
doctors can do nothing for him. The agony must be terrible. 
Taillefer had a seizure, I remember, once, poor man, when 
he was staying with us in the country ; I was obliged to go to 
a neighbor's house so as not to hear him; his shrieks are fear- 
ful; he tries to kill himself; his daughter had to have him 
put into a strait waistcoat and tied down to his bed. Poor 
man ! he says there are live creatures in his head gnawing his 
brain ; it is a horrible, sawing, shooting pain that throbs 
through every nerve. He suffers so fearfully with his head 
that he did not feel the blisters that they used to apply at one 
time to draw the inflammation ; but M. Brousson, his present 
doctor, forbade this ; he says that it is nervous inflammation, 
and puts leeches on the throat, and applies laudanum to the 
head ; and, indeed, since they began this treatment the 
attacks have been less frequent ; he seldom has them oftener 
than once a year, in the late autumn. When he gets over one 
of these seizures, Taillefer always says that he would rather be 
broken on the wheel than endure such agony again." 



THE RED HOUSE. 365 

" That looks as if he suffered considerably ! " said a stock- 
broker, the wit of the party. 

"Oh! last year he very nearly died," the lady went on. 
"He went alone to his country-house on some urgent busi- 
ness ; there was no one at hand perhaps, for he lay stiff and 
stark, like one dead, for twenty-two hours. They only saved 
his life by a scalding hot bath." 

" Then is it some kind of tetanus? " asked the stockbroker. 

" I do not know," returned she. " He has had the com- 
plaint nearly thirty years; it began while he was with the 
army. He says that he had a fall on a boat, and a splinter 
got into his head, but Brousson hopes to cure him. People 
say that in England they have found out a way of treating it 
with prussic acid, and that you run no risks " 

A shrill cry, louder than any of the preceding ones, rang 
through the house. The blood ran cold in our veins. 

" There ! " the banker's wife went on, " that is just what I 
was expecting every moment. It makes me start on my chair 
and creep through every nerve. But it is an extraordinary 
thing ! poor Taillefer, suffering such unspeakable pain as he 
does, never runs any risk of his life ! He eats and drinks as 
usual whenever he has a little respite from that ghastly tor- 
ture Nature has such strange freaks. Some German doctor 

once told him that it was a kind of gout in the head ; and 
Brousson's opinion was pretty much the same." 

I left the little group about our hostess and went out with 
Mile. Taillefer. A servant had come for her. She was 
crying. 

" Oh man Dieu, mon Dieu ! " she sobbed ; " how can my 
father have offended heaven to deserve such suffering as this ? 
So kind as he is." 

I went down stairs with her, and saw her into the carriage; 
her father was lying doubled up inside it. Mile. Taillefer 
tried to smother the sound of her father's moaning by cover- 
ing his mouth with a handkerchief. Unluckily, he saw me, 



366 THE RED HOUSE. 

and his drawn face seemed further distorted, a scream of 
agony rent the air, he gave me a dreadful look, and the car- 
riage started. 

That dinner party and the evening that followed it was to 
exercise a painful influence on my life and on my views. 
Honor and my own scruples forbade me to connect myself 
with a murderer, no matter how good a husband and father 
he might be, and so I must needs fall in love with Mile. Tail- 
lefer. It was wellnigh incredible how often chance drew me 
to visit at houses where I knew I might meet Victorine. 
Again and again, when I had pledged myself to renounce her 
society, the evening would find me hovering about her. The 
pleasures of this life were immense. It gave the color of an 
illicit passion to this unforbidden love, and a chimerical re- 
morse filled up the measure of my bliss. I scorned myself 
when I greeted Taillefer, if by accident he was with his 
daughter ; but, after all, I bowed to him. 

Unluckily, in fact, Victorine, being something more than 
a pretty girl, was well read, charming, and gifted in no small 
degree, without being in the least a blue-stocking, without the 
slightest taint of affectation. There is a certain reserve in 
her light talk and a pensive graciousness about her that no 
one could resist. She liked me, or, at any rate, she allowed me to 
think so ; there was a certain smile that she kept for me ; for 
me the tones of her voice grew sweeter still. Oh ! she cared 
about me, but she worshiped her father ; she would praise 
his kindness to me, his gentleness, his various perfections, 
and all her praises were like so many daggers thrust into my 
heart. 

At length I all but became an accessory after the fact, an 
accomplice in the crime which had laid the foundation of the 
wealth of the Taillefers. I was fain to ask for Victorine's 
hand. I fled. I traveled abroad. I went to Germany and 
to Andernach. But I came back again, and Victorine was 



THE RED HOUSE, 367 

looking thinner and paler than her wont. If she had been 
well and in good spirits, I should have been safe ; but now 
the old feeling for her was rekindled with extraordinary vio- 
lence. 

Fearing lest my scruples were degenerating into mono- 
mania, I resolved to convene a Sanhedrim of consciences that 
should not have been tampered with, and so to obtain some 
light on this problem of the higher morality and philosophy. 
The question had only become more complex since my 
return. 

So the day before yesterday I assembled those among my 
friends whom I looked upon as notably honest, scrupulous, 
and honorable. I asked two Englishmen, a secretary to the 
embassy and a Puritan ; a retired Minister, in the character 
of matured worldly wisdom ; a few young men still under the 
illusions of inexperiences ; a priest, an elderly man ; my old 
guardian, a simple-hearted being, who gave me the best ac- 
count of his management of my property that ever trustee 
has been known to give in the annals of the Palais ; an advo- 
cate, a notary, and a judge in short, all social opinions 
were represented and all practical wisdom. We had begun 
by a good dinner, good talk, and a deal of mirth ; and over 
the dessert I told my story plainly and simply (suppressing 
the name of my lady-love), and asked for sound counsel. 

" Give me your advice," I said to my friends as I came to 
an end. " Go thoroughly into the question as if it were a 
point of law. I will have an urn and billiard balls brought 
round, and you shall vote for or against my marriage, the 
secrecy of the ballot shall be scrupulously observed." 

Deep silence prevailed all at once. Then the notary de- 
clined to act. 

" There is a contract to draw up," he alleged. 

Wine had had a quieting effect on my guardian; indeed, 
it clearly behooved me to find a guardian for him if he was to 
reach his home in safety. 



368 THE RED PI O USE. 

" I see how it is ! " I said to myself. "A man who does 
not give me an opinion is telling me pretty forcibly what I 
ought to do." 

There was a general movement round the table. A land- 
owner, who had subscribed to a fund for putting a headstone 
to General Foy's grave and providing for his family, ex- 
claimed 

" ' Even, as virtue, crime hath its degrees.' " 

"The babbler," said the Minister in a low voice, as he 
nudged my elbow. 

"Where is the difficulty? " asked a duke, whose property 
consisted of lands confiscated from Protestants after the 
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. 

The advocate rose to his feet. 

"In law," opined the mouthpiece of justice, "the case 
before us presents no difficulty whatever. Monsieur le Due is 
right! Is there not a statute of limitations? Begin to in- 
quire into the origins of a fortune, and where should we all 
of us be ? This is a matter of conscience, and not of law. 
If you must drag the case before some tribunal, the con- 
fessional is the proper place in which to hear it." 

And the Code incarnate, having said his say, sat down and 
drank a glass of champagne. The man intrusted with the 
interpretation of the Gospel, the good priest, spoke next. 

"God has made us weak," he said with decision. "If 
you love the criminal's heiress, marry her ; but content your- 
self with her mother's property, and give her father's money 
to the poor." 

"Why, in all likelihood the father only made a great 
match because he had made money first," cried one of the 
pitiless quibblers that you meet with everywhere. " And it is 
just the same with every little bit of good fortune it all 
came of his crime ! " 

" The fact that the matter can be discussed is enough to 
decide it ! There are some things which a man cannot weigh 



THE RED HOUSE. 369 

and ponder," cried my guardian, thinking to enlighten the 
assembly by this piece of drunken gravity. 

" True ! " said the secretary to the embassy. 

"True!" exclaimed the priest, each meaning quite 
differently. 

A doctrinaire, who escaped being elected by a bare hundred 
and fifty votes out of a hundred and fifty-five, rose next. 

"Gentlemen," said he, "this phenomenal manifestation 
of the intellectual nature is one of the most strongly marked 
instances of an exception to the normal condition of things, 
the rules which society obeys. The decision, therefore, on an 
abnormal case should be an extemporaneous effort of the con- 
science, a sudden conception, a delicate discrimination of the 
inner consciousness, not unlike the flashes of insight that 
constitute perception in matters of taste. Let us put it to' 
the vote." 

" Yes, let us put it to the vote," cried the rest of the party. 

Each was provided with two billiard-balls one white, the 
other red. White, the color of virginity, was to proscribe 
marriage ; red to count in favor of it. My scruples pre- 
vented me from voting. My friends being seventeen in 
number, nine made a decisive majority. We grew excited 
and curious as each dropped his ball into the narrow- 
mouthed wicker basket, which holds the numbered balls when 
players draw for their places at pool, for there was a certain 
novelty in this process of voting by ballot on a nice point of 
conduct. When the basket was turned out there were nine 
white balls. To me this did not come as a surprise ; but it 
occurred to me to count up the young men of my own age 
among this court of appeal. There were exactly nine of 
these casuists ; one thought had been in all their minds. 

"Aha ! " I said to myself, " there was a unanimous feeling 
against the marriage in their minds, and a no less unanimous 
verdict in favor of it among the rest ! Here is a fix, and 
how am I to get out of it ? " 
24 



370 THE RED HOUSE. 

"Where does the father-in-law live?" one of my school- 
fellows, less crafty and far-sighted than the rest, carelessly 
asked. 

"There is no longer a father-in-law in the case!" I ex- 
claimed. " A while ago my conscience spoke sufficiently 
plain to make your verdict superfluous. And if it speaks 
more uncertainly to-day, here are the inducements that led 
me to waver. Here is the tempter this letter that I received 
two months ago ; and I drew a card from my pocket-book 
and held it up : 

" 'You are requested to be present? so it ran, ' at the funeral 
and burial service of 

M. JEAN-FREDERIC TAILLEFER, 

of the firm of Taillefer and Company, sometime contractor of 
provisions to the Army, late Chevalier of the Legion of Honor 
and of the Order of the Golden Spur, Captain of the First Com- 
pany of Grenadiers of the National Guard, Paris : who died on 
May ist, at his house in the Rue Joubert. The interment will 
take place" and so forth, and so forth. ' On behalf of,' and 
so forth. 



" What am I to do now ? " I continued. " I will just put 
the question roughly before you. There is unquestionably a 
pool of blood on Mile. Taillefer's estates. Her father's prop- 
erty is one vast Aceldama. Granted ! But, then, Prosper 
Magnan has no representatives, and I could not find any traces 
of the family of the pin-maker who was murdered that night 
at Andernach. To whom should the fortune be returned ? 
And ought it all to be returned ? Have I any right to betray 
a secret discovered by accident, to add a severed human head 
to an innocent girl's marriage portion, to give her ugly dreams, 



THE RED HOUSE. 371 

to destroy her pleasant illusions, to kill the father she loved a 
second time, by telling her that there is a dark stain on all 
her wealth ? 

" I have borrowed a ' Dictionary of Cases of Conscience ' 
from an old ecclesiastic, and found therein no solution what- 
ever of my doubts. Can you make a religious foundation for 
the souls of Prosper Magnan and Walhenfer and Taillefer now 
midway through this nineteeth century of ours ? And as for 
endowing a charitable institution or awarding periodic prizes 
to virtue most of our charitable institutions appear to me to 
be harboring scoundrels, and the prize of virtue would fall to 
the greatest rogues. 

" And not only so. Would these investments, more or less 
gratifying to vanity, be any reparation ? And is it my place 
to make any? Then I am in love, passionately in love. My 
love has come to be my life. If, without any apparent reason, 
I propose that a young girl, accustomed to splendor and ele- 
gance, and a life abundant in all the luxuries art can devise, 
a girl who indolently enjoys Rossini's music at the Bouffons 
if to her I should propose that she should rob herself of fif- 
teen hundred thousand francs for the benefit of aged imbeciles 
and problematical scrofula patients, she would laugh and turn 
her back upon me, or her confidante would take me for a wag 
who makes jokes in poor taste. If in an ecstasy of love I 
extol the charms of humble life in a cottage by the Loire, if 
I ask her to give up, for my sake, her life in Paris, it would 
be a virtuous lie to begin with, and probably would end in a 
sad experience for me, for I shall lose the girl's heart ; she is 
passionately fond of dancing and of pretty dresses, and for 
the time being, of me. Enter some smart stripling of an offi- 
cer with a nicely-curled mustache, who shall play the piano, 
rave about Byron, and mount a horse gracefully, and I shall 
be supplanted. What is to be done? Gentlemen, advise 
me, for pity's sake ! " 

Then one of the party, who hitherto had not breathed a 



372 



THE RED HOUSE. 



word, the Englishman with a Puritanical cast of face, not un- 
like the father of Jeanie Deans, shrugged his shoulders. 

"Idiot that you were," he said. "What made you ask 
him if he came from Beauvais?" 

PARIS, May, 1831. 




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